- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The University of Wisconsin-Madison will be able to enroll an unlimited number of out-of-state undergraduates beginning next fall under a plan that the UW System Board of Regents approved Friday after the chancellor and system president vowed to more aggressively recruit top Wisconsin students to the flagship campus.

The system currently caps the number of out-of-state undergraduates at 27.5 percent of the total undergraduate population of each campus. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and system President Ray Cross asked the regents to waive the cap at UW-Madison for four academic years beginning in the fall of 2016.

Their request calls for the school to enroll at least 3,600 in-state freshmen each year, roughly the average number of resident freshmen enrolled each year since 2012. Minnesota students, who pay Wisconsin tuition rates, would be considered out-of-state students. They couldn’t take any of the in-state slots but like other out-of-staters, they wouldn’t face any enrollment cap.

Blank and Cross have presented the change as way to attract fresh new talent to Wisconsin who will hopefully stay and work in the state after graduation, boosting a workforce that will dwindle as the state’s population ages and in-state high school graduation rates and college enrollment continues to decline.

Critics, including the UW-Madison student association, say the move is really an attempt to generate more revenue as the university copes with its share of a $250 million cut Republicans imposed on the system in the state budget. Out-of-staters pay about $20,000 more per year than in-state students. Opponents also fear no out-of-state caps will mean larger classes, reduced services and more Wisconsin students turned away.

Blank told the university’s faculty senate this week that the proposal would create “budget advantages,” but demographics demand that the university lift the cap, regardless. She mentioned briefly that the proposal could boost the school’s budget during the regents meeting, but no regents questioned her about revenue. She and Cross stuck largely to their message that lifting the cap is designed to bolster the workforce and the school would more aggressively recruit Wisconsin students.

“Our first commitment is to Wisconsin students,” Blank said. “But we can bring top talented young people into the state from around the nation and the world. We can’t just be doing businesses as usual.”

Regent Tim Higgins tried to add formal language to the policy requiring UW-Madison to step up recruiting of the best Wisconsin students identified through grade point averages and test scores. The policy contains no such hard commitment; Higgins said he believes in “trust and verify” Blank’s recruiting promise. The amendment fell flat, though, after other regents argued that test scores aren’t an adequate measure of a student’s potential.

The regents ultimately approved the waiver on a voice vote.

“Our problem is going to translate from a skills gap to a population gap,” Regent Mark Tyler said. “I think we’re in a position to lead the nation in solving this problem. Unfortunately, we’re stealing from each other to solve this problem. (But) I’m very supportive of this proposal.”

Higgins was the only regent who voted against raising the cap. He said after the meeting that he supports lifting the cap, but couldn’t vote for the idea without his language holding Blank to her promise to go after the best in-state students.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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