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Students support Blugold Commitment goals but not costs

RELEASED: Dec. 4, 2009

EAU CLAIRE — Students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire support the goals of a proposal that would increase differential tuition to enhance academic quality, but they are concerned about the overall costs associated with the proposal in its current form, according to a survey completed by 3,672 students this week.

Sixty-nine percent of the students responding to the survey stated that they oppose the Blugold Commitment, with the size of the differential tuition increase and the amount of funding within the proposal earmarked for financial assistance being the two most frequently noted reasons for their opposition, said Michael Umhoefer, student body president. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said they opposed the proposal because of the size of the differential tuition increase and 51 percent said they opposed it because of the financial assistance piece.

The Blugold Commitment calls for an increase in differential tuition of $1,500, to be phased in over the next four years. The first increase would be $375 in the 2010-11 academic year ($188 per semester). Differential tuition is a separate category of tuition, above the tuition set annually by the UW System Board of Regents.

The Student Senate is slated to vote Dec. 7 on whether it will support forwarding the proposal to the UW System Board of Regents for its consideration. That meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Tamarack Room of Davies Center.

"The survey is not a binding vote or referendum, but the results will help guide the deliberations of the student senators on Monday night," said Umhoefer, noting that student participation in the survey was the highest ever for any UW-Eau Claire student survey, referendum or election.

While it is important, the survey is just one of many tools senate leaders have used to gauge student support for the Blugold Commitment, Umhoefer said. Students, faculty, staff and administrators have had numerous face-to-face meetings, open forums, drop-in discussions and other interactions with students, Umhoefer said, adding that 86 percent of the students who responded to the survey indicated they had heard of the proposal.

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich worked with student leaders to develop the Blugold Commitment as a way to enhance the quality of academic programs at UW-Eau Claire and to support the kinds of value-added experiences that students have said are important to them.

The current Blugold Commitment proposal would enable the university to hire up to 50 more faculty and staff. The investment would do a number of things, including expanding global and intercultural immersion experiences, collaborative research and internships. It also would enrich students' academic experiences through enhanced advising and more integrated graduation requirements.

A portion of the Blugold Commitment was earmarked to offset all or part of the differential tuition increases for some students. The financial assistance would help keep UW-Eau Claire affordable for low- and middle-income students.

"We didn't propose such a significant differential tuition increase lightly," Levin-Stankevich said. "Unfortunately, the certain prospect of continuing difficulties in maintaining or improving public funding for higher education and continued calls to do more with less make it more than challenging for us to sustain or grow the experiences that make a UW-Eau Claire degree so valuable. The Blugold Commitment would enable us to invest in these practices."

In the survey, students indicated that they do support the academic and value-added programs the Blugold Commitment would support, Umhoefer said. For example, 63 percent of the respondents said they want to complete an internship and 55 percent said they want to either study abroad or participate in a national student exchange program, he said. There also was strong interest in student-faculty collaborative research, service-learning and capstones, he said. In 2008-09, 53 percent of UW-Eau Claire graduates had completed an internship and 20 percent studied abroad.

"The survey clearly shows that while a majority of the student respondents said they didn't support the proposal, it wasn't because they didn't like where the money was going to go," Umhoefer said. "They just didn't like the size of the differential tuition increase or the amount of the financial assistance."

The survey was another step in what has been a deliberate process in UW-Eau Claire's effort to develop a proposal to the Board of Regents that will maintain and enhance the academic quality that gives Blugold graduates an edge, Levin-Stankevich said.

"The survey information will be very useful as we continue to refine this proposal," Levin-Stankevich said. "Clearly, our students support what we're trying to accomplish. The survey confirms what we've heard from students in other ways — that they want the kinds of experiences that provide the distinctive Eau Claire advantage that the Blugold Commitment is designed to maintain and expand."

The Student Senate has multiple options when it meets Monday, Umhoefer said. It could vote on the proposal as it stands, amend it, or make additional recommendations for further proposal changes that address the concerns students noted in the survey, he said.

"We'll analyze all the input we've received from students and then move forward," Umhoefer said. "There are a lot of different opportunities or actions to consider."

The survey also found:

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents said they have not changed their major; 32 reported changing their major one time.
  • Forty-nine percent of the respondents said they plan to graduate in four years (UW-Eau Claire's four-year graduation rate is 26 percent).
  • Sixty-three percent of the respondents said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the advising they've received.

The survey respondents were almost evenly divided among freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

-30-

JB/DW

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