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UW students want to keep cap on tuition hikes

Kevin Wang, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- University of Wisconsin students asked state legislators Monday to renew a tuition cap, fearing that failure to do so would put higher education out of reach of many families.

About 100 students from campuses around the state descended on the Capitol to call for a tuition increase of no more than 3 to 4 percent in the academic year starting this fall. Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget would end the cap, currently at 5.5 percent, after the current academic year.

Geoff Murray, president of the United Council of UW Students, a student rights advocacy group representing 140,000 UW students at 20 campuses, said ending the cap could lead to a tuition spike that would make it difficult for many students to pay for college. The existing cap went into effect after tuition shot up 15 to 18 percent a decade ago.

Murray, a senior majoring in economics at UW Stevens Point, said tuition increases in the last two years have two-thirds of Wisconsin college students graduating with debt averaging $26,000.

Tuition for undergrads at the flagship campus in Madison rose 7.4 percent this school year compared to a year before, among the highest increases for public universities in the Big Ten, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. (The cap is an overall average; the rise in graduate student tuition was lower.)

Walker's budget would leave it to the Board of Regents to set tuition. The governor's proposal would edge funding for the UW system up $181 million, a figure that UW spokesman David Giroux said sets the stage for a modest tuition increase.

Regents will decide the exact amount by summer.

Walker's plan to drop the cap will likely face opposition in the Legislature.

Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater and chairman of the Assembly's Colleges and Universities Committee, has supported a 5 percent annual cap.