Students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, regardless of major, pay the same amount per credit. Because of the cost differences, certain majors are subsidizing the more expensive majors which causes the university to underpay its professors.
The cost per credit for Wisconsin residents is $262.43, for Minnesota residents $278.27, for Tri-State Initiative students $429.10, for Midwest Student Exchange students $393.65 and for Non-Residential students $577.97. This does not put into account any grants, scholarships or loans individual students might have.
Universities that have differential tuition, including UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, charge students different amounts depending on their major. With differential tuition, students pursuing an engineering major pay more because their major costs more and has a higher market value than, for example, an English major. While UW-Platteville does have course fees, those fees only cover the cost of materials used and not the cost of the lab itself. For engineering majors, the cost of the degree is not covered by the amount they’re paying.
At a budget forum on March 10, Chancellor Dennis J. Shields said, “Right now you could argue that non-engineering students are subsidizing engineering students.”
Interim Dean of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science Mesut Muslu said he would be in favor of having differential tuition, although it would pose both positive and negative effects. Raising tuition will affect students who cannot afford it and will reduce enrollment, especially in engineering.
The number of incoming freshmen enrolled in EMS is approximately 20 percent larger than those enrolled in the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture and the College of Liberal Arts and Education combined. Although EMS has the highest freshmen enrollment, it does not graduate the most. Since approximately 50 percent of EMS students either drop out or change majors or universities, BILSA graduates the most students of the three colleges.
“The College of EMS is a feeder to the rest of the university,” Muslu said. “We attract a lot of students and feed them to other programs.”
Muslu said that the cost differences in majors are in lab and equipment needs, size of programs and faculty salaries.
Salaries are a controversial topic for faculty, regardless of their college. Muslu said that in the 2013-2014 academic year, EMS lost over 10 faculty members due to salaries being too low. Tenured professors have left, indicating that there is discomfort within the program.
“[Salaries are] 12-15 percent lower than our peer institutions,” Muslu said. “They can find [higher paying] jobs somewhere else, so they leave.”
Although students pay equal tuition, professors do not receive equal pay. Below-average salaries are not only affecting EMS but other colleges as well. LAE professors are not only paid less than national average; English professors are paid less than the engineering professors at UW-Platteville. Due to supply and demand, English professors have lower market value than engineering professors.
“So tell me how much work the engineering professors are doing compared to our adjuncts who are getting paid less and having to do more work?” Hadorn said. “You’re talking about the fact that they are paid more than I am, teaching less than I am, but they are valued more than what I do because they are in something that has a higher market value.”
According to the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of faculty members in both English and engineering at UW-Platteville are paid more than $10,000 below the national annual mean wage. At UW-Platteville, English professors earn approximately $50,000 and engineering professors earn approximately $75,000. The annual mean wage for an English professor is $68,360 while it is $92,170 for someone in an engineering field. In other words, despite the fact that students are subsidizing salaries of professors they might never have, those professors are still being paid below national average.
“It bothers me that we live in a country that doesn’t value education,” English professor Peter Hadorn said in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget cuts on education that are severely impacting students and faculty.
Even though salaries are already below average, position cuts still have to be made in areas with less demand. Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Rob Cramer said that there are 52 faculty cuts speculated and 18 reductions to be made. Because there are approximately 3,200 students, approximately 42 percent of the university, enrolled in EMS, Muslu said, “Cutting faculty positions is not an option for us.”
At the BILSA and the future directions of media studies meeting on Jan. 20, Dean of BILSA Wayne Weber said that despite budget cuts, the university is under pressure to fill two positions in mechanical engineering.
Another area where the majors have considerable cost differences is with their textbooks. According to textbookequity.org, the average cost of an engineering textbook is $156 while the average cost of an English composition textbook is $74. Although quite a few professors are in favor of removing the Textbook Center, doing so would add extra costs for students and will affect enrollment. Muslu said that as a professor, he would be in favor of eliminating the Textbook Center, but from a dean’s perspective, the positives, of keeping the Textbook Center, outweigh the negatives. The Textbook Center has saved students thousands of dollars, giving UW-Platteville an advantage in the UW System and made it more attractive for prospecting students. Eliminating it would cause UW-Platteville to lose its edge over the other UW universities.
Eliminating the Textbook Center and cutting staff positions will have negative consequences, and professors will eventually leave if they continue to be underpaid. One possible solution to the budget problem is differential tuition. Pricing tuition per major will allow faculty to be paid properly and preserve the integrity of the university.