Helping Students Reach their Dreams

If you ever asked a kid what they want to be when they grow up, I’m sure you heard a good answer. Kids dream of being an astronaut, firefighter, teacher or doctor. With all the confidence in the world, a kid can assert they want to grow up to be the President of the United States. Kids have big dreams and see endless opportunities in their future.

Unfortunately, kids can lose some of this ambition as they get older and learn about the expensive costs that come when pursuing a higher education. In Wisconsin, the median student loan debt is $17,323. In 2016, Wisconsin ranked 14th among states based on average student debt, and 7th overall for the proportion of graduates with debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. These statistics are a reality check for many students as they’re planning their future. This information can deter students from achieving their dreams, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

Last week, I introduced the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” legislative package, with my colleagues Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire). These seven bills invest in Wisconsin’s higher educational institutions and make college more affordable for students and working families around our state. This package sends a strong signal that Wisconsin values students pursuing their dreams.

The “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package builds off of Governor Evers’ commitment to college affordability. The Majority Party made significant changes to the governor’s 2021-23 budget proposal, but there is still time to fix higher education by passing these bills.

One of our proposals freezes UW System tuition to keep costs low for students and it fully funds this freeze to ensure educators have the resources to keep teaching. Another one of our proposals takes a step further requiring that all future tuition freezes be funded to ensure UW System schools are supported and can properly teach students.

A third bill in the legislative package expands the Tuition Promise program to UW System institutions. In 2018, the UW-Madison created a program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise to provide resident low-income students with free tuition. The program provides four years of free tuition to students in a household with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. Under our proposal, the Tuition Promise would be available to students at other UW System schools who fit the eligibility criteria.

In addition to the Tuition Promise, another bill from the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package invests in need-based financial aid for UW System and technical college students to ensure more grants are available to those who qualify.

To support those studying to become educators, one of our proposals provides a one-semester tuition remission for student teachers. We hope this bill will alleviate the financial strain prospective teachers face and encourage more individuals to go into the profession.

Lastly, the other two bills provide the state support for the UW System and Wisconsin’s technical colleges needed to hold onto their outstanding education institutional reputations. We’ve proposed directing $50 million to Wisconsin technical colleges and district boards, and $16.6 million to the UW System.

The goal of introducing the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package wasn’t only to help Wisconsin students achieve their dreams of attending college, although that reason would be good enough. The investments we make today are critical to make sure students learn new skills and are prepared to enter the workforce. Supporting higher education investments today will address our current labor shortage and encourage business owners to grow our economy for tomorrow.

We want to support our kids to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be. Well, here’s our chance. Let’s move the “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package forward to help the future generations of dreamers and doers.