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Wisconsin Dems Push Measure For Free In-State College Tuition

Students Would Have To Work In Wisconsin For 3 Years After Graduation

students, college
Maureen McCollum/WPR

Democratic state legislators are proposing a new college grant program that would cover the cost of tuition, books and housing at state schools for any resident who signs a pledge to work in Wisconsin for three years after graduation.

Authors of the proposal call it the “Wisconsin Promise.” State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said it would cover all college costs for in-state students as long as they keep a 3.0 GPA and are able to find a job within three months of graduation. She said the plan would allow students to graduate debt-free from any University of Wisconsin System or state technical college.

“If you are committed, if you roll up your sleeves, if you work hard and you commit to the state of Wisconsin, we’re gonna take care of you because you’re taking care of us,” Sargent said. “You’re going to become part of our tax base.”

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For students who leave the state or fail to maintain their grades, the grant would become a loan they would have to pay back.

Sargent said there’s no estimate yet on how much it would cost the state to provide the grants to the thousands of students who would be eligible.

Gov. Scott Walker is backing package of Republican proposals to help students avoid going into debt to get a college education, but Sargent said her bill goes much further.

She said similar grant programs have been adopted in Oregon and Tennessee. The Tennessee Promise program costs the state $34 million every year and is only available to cover tuition at community colleges.

The Oregon program also provides tuition grants only for community colleges. It has a yearly price tag of $10 million with between 4,000 and 6,000 students eligible to get a two-year degree.

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