UW System president visits to tout Wisconsin Tuition Promise

·3 min read

Aug. 16—EAU CLAIRE — The UW System carved $13.8 million out of its current budget to guarantee that new students coming from lower income families won't have to pay any tuition through an upcoming program at 12 regional campuses, but funding for future years will be sought from the state Legislature.

UW System President Jay Rothman visited UW-Eau Claire on Tuesday, joined by chancellors from western Wisconsin campuses, to talk about the new Wisconsin Tuition Promise program.

"For many students we believe this is a game-changer," Rothman said.

An estimated 8,000 students going to the 12 universities — all those in the UW System except UW-Madison — would get a portion of their tuition and fees paid by the new program when it starts in fall 2023.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt succinctly stated that if students come from a family with an adjusted gross income of less than $62,000, their tuition and fees will be completely covered by grants — not loans.

"This program helps to solve the mystery of financial aid," Schmidt said.

Federal and state grant and scholarship programs, including Federal Pell Grants, would be the first used to pay for those students' educational costs, but whatever those don't cover would be handled by the Wisconsin Tuition Promise.

Over four years a student takes to get a degree, the new program would pay an average of $4,500 in tuition and fees. That figure that will widely vary — up or down — by individual depending on what amount of state and federal education programs each student qualifies for.

How many students at each university meets the financial eligibility requirements varies by campus.

While only about a fifth of UW-Eau Claire's student body meet the income levels for Pell grants, a third of UW-Superior students qualify.

"The Tuition Promise presents tremendous opportunity for students in the Northland," UW-Superior Chancellor Renée Wachter said.

Chancellors at Tuesday's news conference not only touted the program's benefit to students, but also how it can help address the state's shortage of workers.

"It is an important investment in the Wisconsin workforce," UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank said.

Maria Gallo, UW-River Falls chancellor, added that creating more opportunity for people who come from lower income backgrounds will help grow the pool of skilled labor.

"Social mobility helps address our state's workforce shortage," she said.

The new program's benefits to the workforce is a key message Rothman is promoting as he intends to ask the state Legislature to put funds in the biennial state budget for future years of the Wisconsin Tuition Promise. He hopes that the program's ability to add more educated labor to the workforce at a time when businesses are struggling to find qualified employees will help convince politicians to add that funding.

"We believe the Legislature will see the same thing we're seeing," Rothman said.

While the Wisconsin Tuition Promise is new, it is modeled after a similar program started through private donations a few years at the UW System's flagship campus.

Students with financial eligibility began receiving money from Bucky's Promise — named after the UW-Madison's badger mascot — in fall 2018. About 3,500 students now attending that university get money from Bucky's Promise.

Both Schmidt and Rothman noted that tuition and fees aren't the only costs that potential students face when going to a university — namely room and board.

A semester of tuition and fees for a resident undergraduate student at UW-Eau Claire is $4,457. Dormitory room contracts start at $5,100 for an academic year at UW-Eau Claire, but go higher depending on shared rooms, amenities and location. Meal plans for eating regularly on campus start at $1,370 per semester at the university.