OSHKOSH - Money within the University of Wisconsin System has been an issue since last week when the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced that the system had a $650 million surplus, $414 million coming from tuition dollars.
At a hearing Tuesday, UW System president Kevin Reilly said the money is being held to protect the system because state tax support has eroded over the years.
Lawmakers have been questioning how the money could pile up while tuition has been increasing more than 5 percent a year. Specifically, students have seen a 5.5 percent tuition increase every year since 2007.
Reilly has been recommending a two percent increase for the next two years.
Its an increase Gov. Scott Walker and some lawmakers say is not necessary at all.
"There absolutely has to be a freeze of tuition over the next two years at a minimum," said State Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).
"I do agree that there should be a cap on tuition when we find out that tuition was the source of this reserve money in the surplus," said State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton).
A statement from the UW System Wednesday pointed the finger at the governor, regents and all legislators as the ones responsible for holding down the cost of college. The statement goes on to say, the university system will carefully look at all the details and work with state leaders to move forward.
So how are individual universities within the system reacting to these developments? UW-Oshkosh says it is working to educate people about its own funds.
Of the reported $650 million balance in the UW System, UW-Oshkosh says its share is about $37 million, but Chancellor Richard Wells says it's not all a "rainy day" fund.
"$34 million of those fund balances are in very clear, specified funds that have very specific uses," explained Wells.
Wells told FOX 11 that $34 million is restricted or committed, in some cases by law, to specific student services, programs or university initiatives. He said the remaining $3 million is what is left for emergencies.
That $3 million is about one percent of the school's $242 million budget from the last year.
According to the Government Finance Officers Association, a college should have about 17 percent of its budget in reserves, and that's why Wells says more education is needed regarding his school's and the entire UW System's funding balances.
"It's our responsibility to explain very clearly what these fund balances are, why they're there, how they got there, what they're for, but when the state has not been able to keep up its share of the taxpayer funds to help continue providing a good public education for students, tuition has gone up," said Wells.
Students will feel the impact directly of any decisions made.
That includes Chelsee Felker.
"It's kind of high, I mean, I'm going to be paying for it myself. So that's kind of tricky, but I did get scholarships to help," said Felker.
So for Felker, a tuition freeze might not be a bad idea.
"I obviously want to leave here with as little debt as possible, so freezing the tuition would probably be a good option. I mean, I don't want to pay more, so that'd be nice," said Felker.
While Wells told us it's likely that will happen.
"But we'll just have to make it work," said Wells.
To see a detailed explanation of UW-Oshkosh's fund balances, check out this link to a document the school released Tuesday .
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