The University of Wisconsin System announced on Monday that it was launching the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a new scholarship intended to allow underserved Wisconsin students to attend any UW System university without paying tuition or fees.
Modeled after “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” at UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Tuition Promise would cover up to four years of tuition and fees for students coming from families earning less than $62,000 annually. It would be made available to in-state students enrolling full-time at any of the other 12 public universities in the UW System.
“The benefits of a college education are unassailable,” said UW System President Jay Rothman, as part of the announcement. “A college degree needs to be within reach for every Wisconsin citizen as a path to a better life, and the Wisconsin Tuition Promise will provide these opportunities. It is also how we can close the skills gap that now limits Wisconsin’s potential to thrive in a global economy.”
Beginning students and transfer students are both eligible for the support, which will cover eight semesters of eligibility for bachelor-degree-seeking students and four semesters of eligibility for associate-degree-seeking and transfer students.
To remain eligible, students must make sufficient academic progress each year and attest that they were employed at some point during the previous year. Students will be automatically considered for the Wisconsin Tuition Promise when they apply for federal financial aid.
The program is designed as a “last dollar” scholarship, meaning that the UW award will pay for tuition and fee balances that are not covered by other sources of financial aid, such as Pell grants and other financial aid grants. As a result, the amount students receive will vary, but UW officials estimate that the average award over four years will be $4,500.
Rothman said an affordability review he had requested showed that a UW System education was the most affordable in the Midwest and was also very affordable compared to national peers. However, fewer low-to-moderate-income and first-generation students were attending UW System universities, indicating, that despite a tuition freeze maintained since 2013, affordability had become an obstacle for some students.
The expectation is that as many as 8,000 students will receive the scholarship once the program is fully implemented. The UW system plans to spend $13.8 million to fund the first year of the program, which will be in academic year 2023-24. It will seek state funding for the program after that as part of its 2023-25 budget request. Once fully implemented, the program is projected to cost $35.6 million annually.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW asked the state to support the Wisconsin Tuition Promise in its last budget request. Although Wisconsin governor Gov. Tony Evers included the program in his budget proposal, the Wisconsin Legislature did not appropriate the money.
Rothman is hopeful the legislature will come through this year. “They are all committed to doing what’s right for the state,” he said. “And I think when they continually see the issues around talent, that we don’t have that talent we need in the state to be successful, I think they will agree with us moving forward that this is a good investment.”
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