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Minnesota and Wisconsin settle tuition dispute


The governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin said Friday that they settled a long-simmering tuition reciprocity dispute without making students pay more to attend universities in either state.

Their pact means that starting in the fall of 2008, Wisconsin students attending higher-priced University of Minnesota schools will see a bigger number on their bills but the state will kick in the difference in the form of a “tuition reciprocity supplement.”

Until now, Wisconsin has made annual payments to Minnesota’s general fund to cover the gap between Minnesota and Wisconsin resident tuition rates, but that money hasn’t gone directly to the Minnesota higher education systems. Soon, it will. More than $7 million a year is at stake.

“It’s been a sore spot,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show on WCCO-AM. “You shouldn’t have a situation where a Wisconsin student is sitting next to a Minnesota student in a Minnesota classroom and have the Wisconsin student paying less.”

The deal continues a nearly 40-year-old tuition reciprocity pact between the two states. It needs approval from the boards of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and some legislation from Wisconsin lawmakers.

Wisconsin Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, said the agreement benefits Wisconsin students and their families by “keeping the cost of obtaining a college degree within reach.”

Rhoades, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee, represents a western Wisconsin district that sends many students to Twin Cities campuses.

About 11,400 Wisconsin students go to Minnesota for a higher education, while about 13,600 Minnesotans cross in the other direction.

Wisconsin will send payments directly to Minnesota campuses at the end of each semester to cover the tuition they lose from admitting Wisconsin students, said Connie Hutchison, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board.

That means Minnesota campuses will no longer come up short on tuition reciprocity.

The new plan is “a fairer and more equitable arrangement,” University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks said in a prepared statement.

Students crossing state lines to go to school won’t see a change, said Matt Canter, a spokesman for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

Under the 1968 reciprocity agreement, undergraduate students from each state who attend colleges and universities in the neighboring state pay the same tuition they would pay if they remained in their home state. Students from both Minnesota and Wisconsin use the agreement to attend schools in the other state without having to pay higher nonresident tuition rates.

But University of Minnesota officials say that because of the way the agreement is structured and because Minnesota’s tuition increases have exceeded Wisconsin’s over the years, Minnesotans now pay $1,200 to $2,700 more to attend schools in the University of Minnesota system than Wisconsin students do.

Wisconsin maintains the problem is caused by Minnesota’s bureaucracy. At the end of each year, Wisconsin makes a lump sum payment to Minnesota to reimburse the state for allowing Wisconsin students to pay less. The problem, Wisconsin says, is that the money goes to the Minnesota general fund and is not given back to individual campuses.

Before the deal was announced, University of Minnesota Regent Dean Johnson said the flow of payments was a key issue.

“The reciprocity that comes from Wisconsin now goes into the state’s general fund,” he said. “That needs to be fixed. Tuition needs to go into the university’s fund, not the state’s general fund.”

University of Minnesota regents were scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to withdraw from the current reciprocity agreement.

Associated Press Writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report from Madison.

– Associated Press

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