The night before Gov. Tony Evers, D-Wis. was supposed to start his first day of work at Kohler Company, Kathy Evers, his wife, handed a stack of mail to him. In the mail was an acceptance letter for a master’s in education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It is because of that letter that I am standing in front of here today as your governor,” Evers said.

Evers, who is the 46th Wisconsin Governor, gave his State of the State address at the Feb. 15 joint convention of the Wisconsin Legislature. In his address, Evers announced plans to address rising gas prices, a struggling job market and supply shortages. While Wisconsin families have faced much of the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, Evers said he wanted to account for students in higher education who have been under considerable stress throughout the pandemic.

According to Evers, a national health survey revealed 75% of UW students screened positive for moderate or severe psychological distress during spring 2021 — a trend that has been prevalent even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counseling and mental health services use at UW System campuses increased by 55% between 2009 and 2019. Evers announced an investment of $5 million into the UW System to provide more mental health services through telehealth counseling in addition to new mental health staff support. 

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“And, clearly, our students at our higher education institutions already have enough to worry about — they’re under a significant amount of pressure and stress as it is, and rising costs at the grocery store and the gas pump affect them, too,” Evers said. “They sure shouldn’t have to worry about the price tag on their education going any higher.”

Evers said the UW System will receive $25 million to fund the tuition freeze for in-state students for the next two years. 

This move comes a few days after UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the Board of Regents should lift the tuition freeze during her annual address. In a Twitter statement, Blank said continued support and funding from state leadership will help UW-Madison recover from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with The Badger Herald, Rep. Francesca Hong, D-76, said additional support for mental health services at UW System campuses is “long overdue.”

“Investment in Wisconsin right now should be no question,” Hong said.

According to Hong, giving money to higher education should be top priority in the context of current workforce challenges, stressing that mental healthcare is healthcare.

“Indifference in this building is getting expensive, folks. And let me be frank — the people who will bear the burden of inaction are almost certainly not the people sitting in this chamber tonight,” Evers said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Feb. 15, 8:25 p.m. to include comments from Hong and Blank.