College of Engineering proposes differential tuition for undergraduates

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering is proposing to phase in a $700-per-semester tuition differential to address the rising cost of engineering education and to remain competitive with other colleges of engineering. The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will consider the proposal at its June 5-6 meeting.

“Most colleges of engineering, including all public Big Ten engineering colleges have a differential tuition,” says UW-Madison College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy. “Resident engineering tuition at Penn State, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan is more than twice that of UW-Madison. Engineering programs at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Platteville have a differential tuition, and the Wisconsin resident tuition for UW-Stout is higher than the UW-Madison College of Engineering. The UW-Madison plan will help bridge the gap between the funding the state provides and the funds required to provide a premier engineering education.”

Last year, the Wisconsin Engineering Student Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of instituting a differential tuition for engineering; Polygon revisited the issue this year and did not change its position of support. The differential tuition would be phased in over three years at the following rate: $300/semester, $500/semester and $700/semester. It would only apply to students with a declared major in the College of Engineering, typically sophomores, juniors and seniors. Need-based financial aid will be provided from other funds to ensure that no student is disenfranchised by the differential tuition.

Two major forces are driving the increasing costs of engineering education: Engineering faculty and staff salaries are increasing, driven by competition with other universities and the private sector. In addition, a technology revolution is expanding the scope of engineering to include biology and health care.

Rapid advances in science and technology require frequent updates to laboratory equipment, computer hardware and software. Meanwhile, state support for UW-Madison has decreased an average of 1.5 percent per year in constant dollars for the past 30-plus years (from $430 million to $268 million). Financial constraints are forcing the college to reduce the number of faculty and instructional staff at a time when the demand for engineers in the state and nation is growing.

Fewer faculty and staff means reduced student access to required courses and increased time to graduation, resulting in an increase in the total cost of engineering education for students at UW-Madison. In recent years, the time to graduation in the college has increased by more than 1.5 semesters.

The College of Engineering would use the differential tuition income to hire approximately 24 new faculty and staff who would teach more sections of high-demand courses to reduce bottlenecks and the time to degree. In addition, the funding would provide increased access to resources identified by student leaders, including student machine shops, hands-on laboratory experiences, extracurricular educational programs, and increased professional development in such areas as teamwork, communication skills, leadership and international experiences, among others.