UWM announces $5 million student debt relief program

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Friday announced a $5 million student debt relief program aimed at helping students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university will forgive outstanding balances incurred by students during the 2020-21 school year. The $5.1 million program will wipe away the debt of 2,000 students who owe an average of $2,714. In most cases, the amount owed is for tuition or housing, but any unpaid university bill is eligible for forgiveness.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our students and their families,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Many lost jobs and incurred additional expenses for child care and health care. We established new scholarships, emergency grants and low-cost computer purchase programs to help, but we know for some, the need was greater. By forgiving their debt from the past year, we hope to give them a fresh start.”

About 24,700 students were enrolled at UWM during the 2020-21 school year. The debt relief program applies to undergraduate and graduate students at all three UWM campuses — Milwaukee, Waukesha and Washington County. Students do not have to complete any paperwork to have their outstanding balances forgiven; it will be done automatically. They also do not have to be currently enrolled; about 100 students who have graduated will have their debt forgiven.

UWM will use a portion of its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) institutional funding to pay for the debt relief program. The university also received HEERF funding to provide $25 million in emergency grants during the 2021-22 school year for students impacted by COVID-19. The deadline for students to apply for those grants is Sept. 13.

The emergency grant and debt relief programs are separate. Some students may qualify for both forms of aid.

“We are grateful for the federal aid our campus is receiving, and we feel strongly that the best way to use it is to help our students,” said Kay Eilers, associate vice chancellor for Enrollment Management. “We know that last year was hard in so many ways. We want our students to know that we are with them, and we will do everything we can to help them achieve their goals and earn their degrees.”

In addition to the federally funded aid programs, UWM is setting aside $500,000 for students who do not have outstanding balances from the 2020-21 school year but faced financial hardship. UWM Hardship Relief grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Application details are still being worked out for that program.

One-third of UWM undergraduates are eligible for federal Pell grants for students from low-income families, and 78% receive some form of financial aid. Thirty-five percent are the first in their families to go to college.