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May 18, 2022

Rep. Whittke questions new higher ed financial aid study

State Rep. Bob Whittke doesn’t want to just look at how much college students in Wisconsin are spending on their education.

Whittke, R-Racine, said there needs to be some focus on what universities are spending and what students are getting for their money.

Whittke talked with The Center Square about the new study on college and university financial aid released by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

“The point [of this study] is on the payment side, ‘We’re not getting enough money, you’re not funding a program enough, this would solve everything if we paid more for something’,” Whittle explained.

The Policy Forum’s report says financial aid in Wisconsin, which the study identifies as state spending on grants, loans, and scholarships, has actually fallen $500,000 over the past decade. The study said college costs have increased substantially during that same time, despite the UW System’s 13-year tuition freeze.

“State funding has changed little over the past decade in key areas such as the average amount for Wisconsin Grants – need-based awards to students at public and private nonprofit institutions in the state that make up the bulk of state financial aid payments,” the study’s authors wrote.

But Whittke said lawmakers and university leaders have to ask “what does more aid get us?”

He’d rather see a focus on careers that don’t always require a college degree, as well as innovations in the UW System to specialize the state’s 13 campuses, and he wouldn’t mind seeing some campuses raise tuition a little bit.

“UW Madison had upwards of 55,000 applications for a freshman class of 7,000 to 12,000. There’s plenty of demand” Whittke said. “Why aren’t we letting the market set where tuition should be?”

When it comes to college affordability, Whittke said parents and students need to understand that there will always be a cost for a college degree.

“I don’t understand this concept that we should forgive everybody’s debt, that everything should be for free. It’s beyond me,” Whittke told The Center Square. “Those that have worked hard have found a way to pay for what they did, and have invested in themselves to get what they want.”

Whittke is also not letting the UW System off the hook for the rising cost of a college education.

“I am a strong believer that you take a look at where you’re spending your money and what return you are getting. Are you getting what you need?” Whittke asked. “How do we reward university chancellors who do a really good job of where they spend their money? What are we getting out of what they spend as far as kids graduating, staying here, and filling jobs?”

The Policy Forum’s report simply suggests more money for student aid, including a $39 million boost for the UW’s Bucky’s Tuition Promise.

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