New UW System initiative aims to help underserved students obtain tuition-free degree

A new University of Wisconsin System initiative starting in fall 2023 aims to help underserved Wisconsin students attend any UW System university without paying tuition or fees.

UW System President Jay Rothman announced the creation of the Wisconsin Tuition Promise at a news conference Monday at UWM. The goal of the program is to increase the number of state residents who graduate with a bachelor’s degree – especially first-generation students and those from low-to-moderate income families throughout Wisconsin.

In turn, higher education could improve the quality of life for a graduate and their families and communities, while helping to meet the state’s workforce needs.

“The benefits of a college education are unassailable,” Rothman said. “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,” Rothman added.

8,000 students

Plans call for about 8,000 students to be supported through the program once fully implemented over four years.

Eligible students will be awarded an average of $4,500 over four years. UW System intends to fund the first year of the program in academic year 2023-24 at $13.8 million and seek state investment for subsequent years.

“The Wisconsin Tuition Promise comes at a pivotal time for our students and families who are faced with increasingly challenging economic circumstances,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said.

“At UW-Milwaukee, we have the highest numbers of Pell Grant recipients, military and veteran students, and students with unmet financial needs,” Mone added. “Our promise will enable access to the quality of life that so many in our population deserve.”

UW-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford and UW-Whitewater Interim Chancellor John Chenoweth also spoke at the news conference held at UWM’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

Similar to Bucky’s Tuition Promise

Modeled on Bucky’s Tuition Promise at UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Tuition Promise would provide up to four years of tuition and fee funding for students coming from families earning less than $62,000 annually and enrolling at any of the other 12 public universities within the UW System.

The program would be structured to provide “last dollar” financial support after accounting for federal and state grant aid. As a result, Tuition Promise awards will vary.

Eligible students will be Wisconsin residents, first-time enrollees or transfers, and attending full-time. They will need to make sufficient academic progress each year and attest that they were employed at some point during the previous year.

UW System education affordable

Rothman said an affordability review he sought shows a UW System education is the most affordable in the Midwest and is very affordable nationally compared to peers.

However, fewer low-to-moderate-income and first-generation students are attending UW System universities, suggesting that despite a tuition freeze in place since 2013, a state college education is increasingly out of reach for some, he said.

“Education unlocks success in Wisconsin,” Rothman said. “By ensuring that every Wisconsin student is given the full opportunity to get a higher education, we will improve those lives directly while building the economic engine and community prosperity that benefit all Wisconsinites.”

Students will be automatically considered for the Wisconsin Tuition Promise when they apply for federal financial aid. More details about the program will be released later this year.

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