WHITEWATER — The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is saying it offers the “best value” in the UW System after recently approved tuition and student cost figures show the university as the cheapest among four-year universities in the state for the upcoming school year.

This comes at a time when enrollment at UW-Whitewater has been decreasing, but the percentage of low-income students has been going up.

The UW System’s Board of Regents on July 11 approved student fees and room-and-board costs for the 2019-20 school year, according to a UW-Whitewater news release.

UW-Whitewater’s total cost, which the UW System calculated as an “average cost for the majority of students,” is $14,376. This is narrowly under UW-River Falls at $14,396.

UW-Whitewater doesn’t have the lowest tuition at $6,519, according to the figures, but it does charge the lowest for student segregated fees — $1,010.

Students at UW-Whitewater, which is opening a new residence hall this fall, will see a $125 increase in room-and-board rates. This accounts for almost all of the 0.9-percent increase compared to last year’s total costs.

UW-Whitewater stated in the news release that it has held this “best value” distinction for at least five years.

The UW System figures don’t include costs for purchasing textbooks, but UW-W promoted what it calls the state’s largest rental program, which covers 95 percent of textbook needs and saves students “thousands of dollars.”

UW-Whitewater also brought up free printing and laundry in residence halls to explain where they’re saving money.

It also recently shared that EdSmart.org ranked the university as the sixth best online education program in the country.

Interim Chancellor Cheryl Green, who will soon depart to make way for Dwight C. Watson, the next permanent chancellor, said in the release that UW-Whitewater officials, “take pride in being responsible stewards of the funds entrusted to us.

“UW-Whitewater has invested this money very wisely to enhance the student experience with outstanding programming and gorgeous facilities to make our campus a true ‘home’ where students can learn, live and work,” she said.

A spokesperson for UW-Whitewater directed clarifying questions on the numbers to the system, which could not immediately be reached.

UW-Whitewater enrollment has gone down in the past two school years after eight years of increases.

Matt Aschenbrener, the associate vice chancellor for enrollment and retention, said he expects enrollment to be down again this year. But numbers relevant to the following school year’s class — such as campus visits, often done by current or soon-to-be high school seniors — make him believe an increase is on its way.

UW-Whitewater is a regional university, he said, and so it needs to be cognizant of who lives in the area and how the costs of higher education are “very expensive.” He said they market against some Illinois schools whose in-state costs are more expensive than out-of-state figures at UW-Whitewater.

“We do a very good job of trying to keep our costs as low as we can,” he said.

Aschenbrener said some expenses at UW-Whitewater, such as those associated with deferred maintenance and health care, are rising. But there are other ways for the university to keep costs down.

Does this translate to more low-income students choosing UW-Whitewater?

The percentage of new and first-year students who received federal Pell Grants was higher in the 2017-18 school year — 31.7 percent — than any of the four previous school years, according to numbers Aschenbrener shared.

UW System figures show an increase among the entire undergraduate population, too, from 27.7 percent in 2016-17 to 28.6 percent in 2017-18. The percentages from 2010-11 to 2015-16 were all higher than 29.8 percent, however.

The university also recently shared that EdSmart.org ranked the university as the sixth best online education program in the country.

Aschenbrener said they market the university’s value to prospective students.

“So we’re able then to take that and show the families that it’s great to stay in the region, stay local, for a university and get a great experience,” he said. “So you don’t have to go far to get a great education.”

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