More Wisconsin Public and Private Colleges Commit to Free Tuition for Low-Income Students | WUWM 89.7 FM

More colleges and universities in Wisconsin are promising free tuition to students of limited means.

UW-Madison is already offering Bucky’s tuition pledge. Now the UW system is expanding it to its other 12 campuses, promising free tuition to students with household incomes below $62,000.

Some private schools are following suit. Carthage College in Kenosha last week announced what it calls the “Carthage Commitment.”

Carthage was already providing enough financial aid to low-income students that they didn’t have upfront tuition, according to acting vice president for admissions Ashley Hanson. She says the new “Carthage Pledge” makes it public: Families earning less than $65,000 won’t have to worry about a tuition bill. The Carthage sticker price is $34,500.

“A lot of students bypass private schools just because of that advertised price,” Hanson says. “It helps us get the message across that higher education, especially a private school, is affordable.”

Courtesy of College of Carthage


Carthage College is the first private university in southeastern Wisconsin to launch a free tuition pledge program.

Like programs that already exist at UW-Madison, MATC, and Lakeland University, Carthage uses a last-dollar model. This means that Federal Pell Grants and State Aid are applied to tuition first, and then Carthage covers the rest. Carthage differs from other schools in that it will also encourage students to use federal loans.

“Our promise is that after all federal, state, and subsidized loan assistance, the student’s direct cost to attend Carthage would be zero,” says Hanson.

Hanson hopes the “Carthage Pledge” will motivate more Kenosha and Racine area students with limited means to enroll.

Kevin Curley hopes it will also attract students from Milwaukee. Curley is senior program director at College Possible, which helps low-income students at 19 Milwaukee high schools apply and stay in college.

“What’s also great about Carthage in particular is that they make a four-year degree promise to their students,” Curley says. “And that really helps keep costs down there.”

The UW system’s new Wisconsin Tuition Promise, which also begins next fall, will have an even greater impact on high school students in Milwaukee.

“What I’m especially excited about is that UW-Milwaukee has it covered,” Curley said. “Because it’s the biggest school our students go to. And the tuition is over $8,000 for the students, so it will definitely help the students in our local community and help them pay for the university and take on less debt.”

UWM Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Kay Eilers says UWM students have some of the highest unmet financial need in the state. UWM enrolls more low-income students than UW-Madison, but it has less institutional support to give them.

“Getting funding to the students who need it the most will have an overall positive impact on outcomes,” says Eilers. “So we’re very happy that there will be more people who will have the ability to afford college and go all the way to graduation.”

The new Wisconsin Tuition Promise is for resident students with household incomes below $62,000. The program was announced by new system chairman Jay Rothman in August and approved by the Board of Regents.

There are still big questions about it. The first is funding. The UW system is using one-time funding to pay $14 million for the first year of the program. Leaders are asking the Republican-led Legislature to fund it in future years — but there’s no guarantee that will happen.

In response to a question about the financial viability of Wisconsin’s Tuition Promise, UW system spokesperson Mark Pitsch wrote, “The UW is committed to the Wisconsin Tuition Promise for its universities. This opens up educational opportunities for everyone in Wisconsin. We see ourselves as partners with the state in raising educational attainment and are hopeful and believe that they can bring their support.”

Another issue concerns a work requirement included in Wisconsin’s Tuition Pledge, which states that students must have been employed at some point in the previous year.

This requirement is not included in Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which is the model for the program. UWM’s Kay Eilers says she is awaiting information on how the work requirement will be implemented.

“It’s one of those that I’m always eager to figure out the details of, so I’m going to have to defer to System for that one,” Eilers said.

UW System’s Pitsch said, “The work requirement demonstrates our commitment to meeting workforce needs and developing talent immediately. Students will certify their employment status.”

Eilers says that in the meantime, she insists that students must complete the federal financial aid application known as the FAFSA, which opens Oct. 1. Students who complete the FAFSA and apply to UW Schools or Carthage College will be notified if they are eligible for free tuition.

Editor’s note: WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee

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