Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missing the Mark on Reciprocity

Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) has an op-ed up today at WisOpinion on the Wisconsin-Minnesota reciprocity agreement that allows Wisconsin students to attend Minnesota public universities at a pre-approved tuition rate and vice versa.

Lasee takes issue with the agreement on a couple of fronts.

First, he argues that Wisconsin does a good job of keeping our native UW grads, but 90% of the Minnesota reciprocity students leave the state after graduation.

Most people would probably expect this, but then here comes Lasee's intuition into the mix: "I am guessing that Wisconsin reciprocity kids are more likely to stay in Minnesota after graduating or go to another state. Wisconsin is getting the short end of the stick."

Huh? Nothing like a firm conclusion constructed on a complete guess.

Since Lasee admits UW students in general are as likely to remain in Wisconsin after graduation as Minnesota grads are to remain in Minnesota, I can't imagine what would give him the impression that Minnesota has a better hold on grad retention when it comes to reciprocity students than Wisconsin.

(As it happens, it's really tough for universities to keep accurate track of their graduates in general, let alone those from a specific program. Newly-minted grads often don't leave forwarding addresses after they turn their tassel -- and a good number bounce around between locales quite a bit in the initial years out of college.)

On the second front, Lasee argues that reciprocity should be limited or even ended because Wisconsin gets about 3,000 more students each year in the deal than it sends out, which means spots are being taken from in-state students who are more deserving or out-of-state students who pay more in tuition. (The 3,000 more also speaks to the high quality of a UW education.)

What Lasee ignores is that reciprocity students face the same admission requirements as in-state and out-of-state students -- in fact, for the purposes of admission, they're considered out-of-state students. Preferential treatment is not given to out-of-state students whether they participate in the reciprocity agreement or not, and the same is true for the thousands of Wisconsin students who head to college in Minnesota each year under the agreement.

Also, any qualified Wisconsin student who wants to attend a UW campus can find a spot in the system. Sometimes students don't get admitted to their first or even second choice -- although the reason for this can hardly be tagged on 3,000 reciprocity students who make up 2% of the total system population -- but there is always something available. In short, reciprocity students are not keeping any Wisconsin students out of the UW System.

And, what's more, those 3,000 "extra" reciprocity students pay between $400 and $1500 more per academic year (depending on the campus) in full-time tuition than in-state students, which translates into over $2 million extra for the UW System each year. In all, the reciprocity agreement adds over $9 million annually to the UW coffers.

Granted, out-of-state students pay even more, but the likelihood is slim that the number of Minnesota students at UW campuses would remain even close to what it is now if the reciprocity agreement was ended.

Since out-of-state tuition at UW campuses is currently higher than the vast majority of peer universities in neighboring states (see here, pages 22-24), there's little financial motive for non-residents to attend college in Wisconsin. To be sure, the UW System attracts around 2,000 more Minnesota students through the reciprocity agreement each year than it does from all of the other 48 states combined.

Perhaps worst of all, if reciprocity was eliminated it would limit the affordable university options for Wisconsin students, over 9,000 of whom attend Minnesota universities under the current reciprocity agreement each year.

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