I've been sweating what to make of the Madison Initiative for a long time, and not making much progress. This is, in the briefest and most simplistic of terms, the chancellor's proposal to up tuition significantly on those from better-off families and put the money toward need-based financial aid and increasing access to high-demand courses. It's hard to oppose those two things, but it's not without real problems. My strong sense is that any barriers to higher education for talented people are bad and having to jump through the hoops of getting financial aid is a barrier.
One local blogger at The Education Optimist has tackled this with gusto and if you care about the issue, I urge you to read her posts. Media coverage has been until very recently entirely one-sided and I'm glad to have this side of the issue articulated so clearly by but the current situation with regard to need-based financial aid is unspeakably bad — a disgrace to this university, as the graphic shows. Faculty and staff are contributing now to a big campaign for need-based aid but even a real success there won't be more than a drop in the bucket.
The only real answer, it seems clear, is massive increases in public support for higher education. In a sense, this initiative might be one shot at keeping the place from collapsing until we can address the fundamental issues. And we have to do that.
*I should mention that I'm in close agreement with her on any number of other issues, like this, and have now started reading that blog regularly.