The University of Wisconsin, like all big public institutions, faces a future of declining state support. And, like all big public institutions, we have to figure out how to keep doing our jobs despite that. Chancellor Martin’s proposal is a New Badger Partnership, under which UW would be allowed to set its own tuition, as Michigan does. The sticker price of a Wisconsin education would go up, and the extra revenue would be plowed back into financial aid in order to keep college affordable for middle-class students and their parents.
I don’t know enough about higher education policy to comment on the merits of the plan. But it’s kind of a work of political genius, isn’t it? To the Democrats in the state government, Martin can say “UW needs to do much, much more to give working families a chance at a world-class education, even if rich Chicago parents take a hit. ” And to the Republicans, she can say, “I came here to run this university like a business, and that means charging market rates.”
Why it’s genius: because she’s right on both counts! The ultimate free-market dream is differential pricing: charging each customer the maximum they’re willing to pay. Most businesses don’t get to examine their customers’ bank balance before naming a price. But UW does. If the university can be more capitalist than the capitalists, redistribute wealth downward, and reduce our dependence on legislative whim, all at the same time, why shouldn’t we?