The University of Wisconsin system offers college promise to low- and middle-income students

The University of Wisconsin system announced Monday that it is introducing the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a new scholarship designed to allow underserved Wisconsin students to attend a UW system university without paying tuition or fees.

Modeled on Bucky’s Tuition Promise at UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Tuition Promise would cover up to four years of tuition and fees for students from families earning less than $62,000 a year. It would be made available to domestic students who enroll full-time at any of the other 12 public universities in the UW system.

“The benefits of a college education are unassailable,” said Jay Rothman, President of UW System, as part of the announcement. “College education must be within the reach of every Wisconsin citizen as a pathway to a better life, and the Wisconsin Tuition Promise will provide those opportunities. In doing so, we can also close the skills gap that limits Wisconsin’s potential to thrive in a global economy.”

Both first-year students and exchange students can take advantage of the funding, which covers eight semesters for bachelor students and four semesters for associate degree students and exchange students.

To remain eligible, students must make sufficient academic progress each year and provide evidence of having been employed at some point during the previous year. Students are automatically considered for the Wisconsin Tuition Promise when applying for federal financial aid.

The program is designed as a “last dollar” stipend, meaning the UW award is paid for tuition and tuition credits not covered by other funding sources such as Pell grants and other financial aid. As a result, the amount students receive will vary, but UW officials estimate the average award over four years will be $4,500.

Rothman said an affordability study he requested showed that a UW system education was the most affordable in the Midwest and was also very affordable compared to national counterparts. However, fewer low- to middle-income and first-generation students attended UW system universities, suggesting that despite a tuition freeze in place since 2013, affordability had become a barrier for some students.

It is expected that up to 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 take place in the 2023-24 academic year. Thereafter, it will seek government funding for the program as part of its 2023-25 ​​budget request. When fully implemented, the program is expected to cost $35.6 million annually.

According to that Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW asked the state to support the Wisconsin University Pledge in its latest budget proposal. Although Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers included the program in his budget proposal, the Wisconsin legislature did not approve the money.

Rothman is confident the Legislature will pass this year. “They are all committed to doing what is right for the state,” he said. “And I think if they keep seeing the problems with talent, that we don’t have the talent that we need in the state to be successful, they’re going to agree with us that this is a good investment.”

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