Published November 25 2012
Wis., Minn. tuition reciprocity stokes rivalryMILWAUKEE — The longtime tuition reciprocity agreement between Minnesota and Wisconsin is stoking a cross-border rivalry as the two states compete for a declining number of top college prospects.
The decades-old agreement allows students from either state to pay in-state tuition in the other. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday that the University of Minnesota's main Twin Cities campus is the biggest recipient of Wisconsin residents.
That's tough competition for University of Wisconsin campuses in places like River Falls and Superior, which are both only miles from the Minnesota border. Both try to offset the competition by attracting Minnesotans.
Declining birthrates are expected to shrink the pool of prospective students in both states for the next few years and potentially longer. Campus officials in both states said the reciprocity arrangement is popular with students and their families, and mutually beneficial to both states.
“We have no indication it's going away any time soon. We get that question a lot,” said Steve Baker, a University of Minnesota admissions counselor and Wisconsin native. Baker was addressing a group of Wisconsin students and parents on a recent campus tour, where officials rolled out a Badger red carpet with a Gopher waiting at the end to welcome them.
“I love the big, friendly atmosphere there and I think that I would fit in great,” said Nina Littman, a high school senior from Madison who's been accepted at Minnesota but hasn't decided if she will attend. Many Wisconsin high school seniors who consider the University of Minnesota are looking for both a Big Ten and a big city experience, which is not available in Wisconsin; or they want a fresh start at many of their classmate flock to the home-state Big Ten school, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Another factor is admissions standards. “Some of our students who really want to go to Madison and don't get admitted can get into Twin Cities,” said Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system. Minnesota allows freshman to immediately start taking classes in their major, something Wisconsin doesn't allow until sophomore year.
In 2011-'12, about 10,500 Wisconsin students attended public universities and technical colleges in Minnesota, while about 14,500 Minnesota students enrolled in Wisconsin's state schools under the Minnesota-Wisconsin Interstate Tuition Reciprocity Agreement. The numbers have grown since the agreement started in 1965, But Minnesota consistently has sent 3,000 to 4,000 more students to Wisconsin than the other way around.
Roughly half the Wisconsin students crossing the border attend the Twin Cities campus. Meanwhile, nearly half the total enrollment at UW-River Falls (2,953 of 6,068 students) and UW-Superior (912 of 2,321 students) came from Minnesota in the 2011-'12 academic year.
Neither state may profit from the reciprocity agreement at the expense of the other. The two states settle up at the end of each fiscal year, using a formula that subtracts total educational costs for reciprocity students from total tuition paid by the students.
The State of Wisconsin for years paid the difference for Wisconsin students to attend the more expensive Minnesota public institutions. But starting this fall, Wisconsin students in Minnesota must pay full freight .
Gov. Scott Walker had called for fully funding reciprocity, including the supplemental tuition payment, but the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee eliminated the supplement last year under pressure to make budget cuts, saving the state an estimated $2.6 million over the 2012-'13 biennium and more in subsequent years, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.