Wisconsin has rejected the proposal, but the University of Minnesota is pushing back.
"We would like to reach agreement within the existing agreement," said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota. "That's the preferable outcome. But I don't want to rule other things out."
Under a decades-old agreement between the states, a Wisconsin student attending a public college or university in Minnesota pays the tuition rate of a comparable campus in Wisconsin. The same home-state formula applies for a Minnesota student enrolled in a college or university in Wisconsin.
While the tuition rates for the states' two-year colleges are comparable, there are growing gaps at many of the four-year universities, with Minnesota students paying much more than their Wisconsin counterparts.
Wisconsin residents attending the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, pay $8,219 a year, $1,191 less than the tuition paid by Minnesota residents. On the University of Minnesota, Morris, campus, Wisconsin residents pay $7,592, $2,720 less than Minnesotans.
Meanwhile, Minnesota residents pay $8,314 to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison - $1,588 more than Wisconsin students. At UW-Milwaukee, Minnesotans pay $8,363, $1,737 more.
Wisconsin reimburses Minnesota for the difference. In 2005, it paid Minnesota nearly $7 million to close the gap. But under the reciprocity agreement, the reimbursement money goes into the state's bank account, not back into the universities.
As the University of Minnesota sees it, the agreement is unfair.
"It's an equity issue," Swan said. "From the perspective of Minnesota taxpayers, it seems like Wisconsin residents should be paying the same amount as their own sons and daughters are required to pay."
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education, known as OHE, manages the reciprocity agreement for Minnesota. In 2004, University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks sent a letter to the office demanding change.
Bruininks asked that Minnesota and Wisconsin students be required to pay whichever tuition rate was higher, the one charged by the campus they were attending or the one charged by the comparable campus in their home state.
OHE and Wisconsin's Higher Educational Aids Board discussed the proposal over the last couple of years, with both sides expressing interest, according to Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota office.
But when Heegaard sent the Wisconsin board a letter in December officially requesting the change, the board balked.
"Making sure that college education remains affordable for students is a priority for Wisconsin," the Higher Educational Aids Board's executive secretary, Connie Hutchison, said in a letter sent to Heegaard on Jan. 5. "To ensure the continued affordability of higher education for our students we want to keep the current reciprocity tuition practices rather than moving to a higher-of-the-two tuition rate agreement."
Under the proposal, Wisconsin students attending any of the University of Minnesota campuses would have to start paying Minnesota tuition starting in fall 2007. None of the other Minnesota colleges and universities would be affected.
According to projections from Minnesota's Office of Higher Education, the reimbursement that Wisconsin pays to Minnesota would be eliminated by 2010. At that point, Minnesota would likely start making reimbursement payments to Wisconsin, which would be deposited in this state's bank account.
Hutchison said in an interview Tuesday that her office opposed the proposal because Gov. Jim Doyle has made keeping tuition down for Wisconsin residents a priority for this year. She said she did not remember expressing interest in a change in previous years, and that she did not have access to notes that would confirm that.
"We like the way this is working now," Hutchison said of the tuition pact.
But Swan said the University of Minnesota was exploring the possibility of withdrawing from the reciprocity agreement and creating an agreement of its own with Wisconsin if it doesn't get what it wants.
"We would make adjustments that would get us the results that we want," he said.
The two sides said they would start negotiations in the coming weeks.