Office of the Governor Scott Walker
Office of the Governor, Scott Walker - Press Release

Working for Wisconsin: Governor Scott Walker Announces College Affordability Legislative Package

Proposals to Build on Historic Four-Year UW-System Tuition Freeze; Freeze Saved Students an Average $6,311 Compared to Average 8.1 Percent Yearly Increases in Prior 10 Years

Monday, January 11, 2016 - Press Release

Madison – Governor Scott Walker announced his college affordability legislative package focusing on making higher education more affordable for Wisconsin working families and students at Waukesha County Technical College.  Today, Governor Walker also joined faculty, staff, students, lawmakers, and community members at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-La Crosse to discuss the positive impact of the historic four-year tuition freeze for the University of Wisconsin System.

“For the first time in state history, we froze tuition for four years for our UW System students and that’s real savings for them and their families,” Governor Walker said.  “We want to continue working together to make higher education more accessible and more affordable for Wisconsin students and families.  Moving forward, we are focused on helping students to afford the higher education path that best suits their career goals, whether through a training program, technical college, or a four-year program.”

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, in the ten years prior to our current historic four-year tuition freeze, tuition increased an average of 8.1 percent across all UW System.  Over that same period, tuition had gone up 118.7 percent prior to the freeze that Governor Walker and the Legislature enacted.  Compared to the average increases over the prior ten years, across the UW System, students have saved $6,311 because of the freeze.  While savings vary by institution, the tuition freeze meant average savings of $2,926 at UW Colleges and savings up to $9,327 at UW-Madison.

“We know how daunting it can be to consider such a large investment at a young age.  Our college affordability legislation will help students and families make informed decisions about choosing the higher education path that is right for their future dreams and for their budgets,” said Governor Walker.  “We also know that all of us fall on tough times, sometimes it’s an unexpected and expensive car repair and sometimes it’s a medical emergency, but it can have an impact on our finances, which is especially tough for students paying for higher education.  For some students, that emergency car repair is the difference between finishing their education or not.  That’s why one of our proposals creates a grant program aimed at helping those students at UW System colleges and technical college to stay in school when they face these unexpected financial hardships.”

The six legislative proposals in the college affordability proposal are focused on making higher education more affordable, reducing student debt, and making the cost of higher education more transparent:

·         Deducting All Student Loan Interest – authored by Representative John Macco and Senator Howard Marklein, this legislation would eliminate any cap on the tax deduction for student loan interest, which would save student loan debt payers $5.2 million annually when it is fully phased in.  This tax deduction would be the most generous of any state in the Midwest with an income tax and benefit roughly 32,000 Wisconsin taxpayers paying off student loans.  This deduction also directly benefits middle class Wisconsinites with an average benefit of more than $200 annually for those making between $30,000 and $70,000;

·         Increasing Wisconsin Grants for Technical Colleges – authored by Representative Dave Heaton and Senator Sheila Harsdorf, this legislation would increase needs-based Wisconsin Grants by $1 million for technical college students in the biennium or $500,000 annually.  This would benefit over 1,000 students throughout the state;

·         Creating Grants for Students in Emergency Financial Need – authored by Representative David Murphy and Senator Howard Marklein, this legislation would provide $130,000 to UW System colleges and $320,000 to technical colleges to provide emergency grants to students.  This approach has been credited with increasing the likelihood a student finishes his or her degree in these unfortunate situations by increasing student retention;

·         Increasing Internships – authored by Representative David Murphy and Senator Howard Marklein, these two pieces of legislation would enhance internships, creating more pathways to employment by funding two positions within the Office of Skills Development at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), as well as additional UW System positions.  These new positions would work with employers and institutions throughout the state to build and grow relationships between higher education institutions and employers, so students can gain job skills, which will assist in filling open positions and connecting our graduating students to employers in Wisconsin;

·         Helping Students and Families to Make Informed Decisions – authored by Representative David Murphy and Senator Howard Marklein, this legislation would require all state institutions of higher education to provide financial literacy to their students within the first semester of their instruction.  It would also require all institutions of higher education offering an associate’s degree or higher to annually mail cost, loan, and other financial information to students.  This is modeled after an Indiana law that has been credited with reducing the amount of loans taken out by students.

Prior to these proposals, Governor Walker and the Legislature have already worked to make higher education more affordable for Wisconsinites.  They have created a scholarship program for high school students who lead their classes in technical education courses, restored the Wisconsin GI Bill for veterans and expanded it to those with five years of residency, as well as increased needs-based grants for technical college students by $2 million in the 2013-14 school year and $1 million for independent colleges.  To make it easier for students to complete their degrees, Governor Walker included in the 2013-15 biennial budget a requirement that UW System and Technical College schools have at least 30 core credits that can transfer between institutions, and additionally created the UW System Flexible Degree Program, which offers competency-based learning at a flexible schedule.  Governor Walker and the Legislature also indexed the Higher Education Tuition Tax Deduction in the 2013-15 budget.  This is benefiting tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents with the costs of higher education.