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Student Senate supports Blugold Commitment

RELEASED: Dec. 8, 2009

EAU CLAIRE — The Student Senate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire voted during its Dec. 7 meeting to increase differential tuition by $1,200 per academic year to support the Blugold Commitment, an initiative designed to enhance academic quality, said Michael Umhoefer, student body president.

In a series of votes, the senate supported the goals of the Blugold Commitment while also taking into consideration student concerns about the overall cost of the differential tuition needed to fund the initiative, Umhoefer said.

In its first vote, the senate unanimously supported the goals of the Blugold Commitment, but at a level below the $1,500 per academic year that had originally been proposed. In a second action, senators voted 25-6-1 in favor of a $1,200 increase in differential tuition to support the initiative, Umhoefer said.

Finally, on a 17-15 vote, the senate passed a resolution supporting an increase in differential tuition of up to $1,200 per academic year, with 40 percent of the dollars to be used to help low- and middle-income students pay for the tuition increases, Umhoefer said. Two amendments that would have lowered the financial assistance amount failed, he said, noting there was significant discussion about the amount of financial assistance in the plan.

"I'm pleased with the results of the senate's decision to support the Blugold Commitment," Umhoefer said. "I'm also glad that the senate made modifications to the proposal to address the concerns of students. A lot of work has been done on every aspect of this project. I think even the students who don't support the Blugold Commitment can be proud of the student oversight, and they can be proud of the outcomes this initiative will produce."

The initial Blugold Commitment proposal called for a $1,500 increase in differential tuition, with 40 percent of the monies generated to be used for financial assistance. Differential tuition is a separate category of tuition, above the tuition set annually by the UW System Board of Regents.

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich has worked closely with elected student leaders to develop the proposal, and he has continuously sought input from the campus community, alumni, parents and university supporters about the plan.

"Students have been actively involved every step of the way," Levin-Stankevich said. "The senate's support and recommendations have been invaluable in contributing to a plan that I think will best meet the needs of our current and future students."

Currently, the Board of Regents must approve differential tuition increases. Student consultation regarding any proposed increase is among the factors regents consider when reviewing differential tuition proposals. Levin-Stankevich plans to present a final proposal to the regents for their consideration during the 2010 spring semester.

The Student Senate vote to support the initiative came after a lengthy discussion Monday night, Umhoefer said. When amending and then supporting the Blugold Commitment proposal, senators took into consideration the feedback they have received from students since the initiative was first announced in late August, he said.

Students, faculty, staff and administrators have had numerous face-to-face meetings, open forums, drop-in discussions and other interactions with students. A survey about the Blugold Commitment was completed last week by 3,672 students, the highest response ever for any UW-Eau Claire student survey, referendum or election.

The survey showed that students supported the goals of the proposal but were concerned about the overall costs associated with the proposal. The senate addressed the cost concerns by reducing the amount of the proposed increase from $1,500 to $1,200, Umhoefer said.

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.

"It's been clear from our many discussions with students that they support what we're trying to accomplish," Levin-Stankevich said of the plan. "Students want the kinds of experiences that provide the distinctive Eau Claire advantage that the Blugold Commitment is designed to maintain and expand."

If funded at the originally proposed $1,500 level, the Blugold Commitment would enable the university to hire up to 50 more faculty and staff. The investment would do a number of things, including expand global and intercultural immersion experiences, collaborative research and internships. It also would enrich students' academic experiences through enhanced advising and more integrated graduation requirements.

Levin-Stankevich said he will review how much of the proposal could be funded if it were to go forward at the lower funding levels supported by the Student Senate.

"We didn't propose such a significant differential tuition increase lightly," Levin-Stankevich said, noting that the financial assistance portion of the proposal would help keep UW-Eau Claire affordable for low- and middle-income students. "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."

The official resolution passed by the senate Monday is being transcribed. Itwill be posted when completed on the Student Senate Web site at www.uwec.edu/StudentSenate/documents/minutes.htm.

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JB

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