Colleges and student advocacy groups across the state showed their support for a financial aid commission’s report that called for ensuring more students get aid.
The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board released a report that recommended improving the financial aid system and offering assistance to more students. The report came from a commission that the state legislature created to analyze the state of financial aid in Wisconsin’s higher education institutions.
UW System President Kevin Reilly said the report shows a college degree is important to have a strong workforce and that policymakers must ensure getting one is affordable.
“As the report recommends, we must safeguard current aid programs while looking for responsible ways to serve more hardworking UW students,” Reilly said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the legislature on these important issues, building on the commission’s solid recommendations.”
HEAB Executive Secretary John Reinemann said the report suggests ensuring aid is available for students who are eligible for HEAB programs, but receive no grants because there is not enough money for them.
In the 2011-2012 academic year, HEAB turned down 76,200 eligible students because of a lack of funding. Reinemann said the commission hopes that legislators will consider those recommendations as they make decisions on the state’s next biennial budget.
Other recommendations included changing the HEAB governing system to ensure they can be more effective in helping students.
Analiese Eicher, government relations director for the United Council of UW Students, said that some recommendations are simply asking the government to follow the rules that are already in place.
“One of the recommendations in the report is to link increases in tuition to increases in financial aid,” Eicher said. “So if tuition goes up, funding for aid has to. There is actually a state statute that says that, but every budget created since the statute has ignored it.”
Dr. Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, gave the reason for the commission suggesting increasing aid. He said that the correlation is “obvious” between financial aid and levels of education in states across the country.
Wisconsin ranks 26th in the country in the percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree and 26th in per capita income, Wegenke said, while Minnesota’s rankings in each of them are 11. Wisconsin is number 30 in per capita grant aid provided to in-state students, while Minnesota is number 13, he added.
“There is clear evidence that increased financial aid is linked to increased levels of educational attainment in the state,” he said.
Wisconsin Technical College System Vice President Morna Foy said many students leave college or decrease their credit load because they need the money from work.
As employers are currently struggling to find qualified job applicants, she said increased financial aid would help students graduate quicker.
“Increasing the number of folks finishing degrees makes them available to close the skills gap in the state right now,” Foy said. “Education does not create the job, but it does create the person to fill the job.”