UW System takes to social media to boost financial aid applications

The University of Wisconsin System is making a new push to encourage more prospective college students to apply for federal financial aid. The goal is to get more high school seniors from lower-income families to consider enrolling in public universities and qualify for a new college promise initiative.

According to the National College Attainment Network, just over half of Wisconsin’s high school graduates complete the free application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Nationally, Wisconsin ranks 38th in terms of FAFSA degrees.

In hopes of boosting those numbers, the UW system is launching a social media advocacy campaign aimed at encouraging students and parents to seek government support through sites like TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, Pandora, Twitter and Facebook apply for. A new website exclaims, “FAFSA will show you the money!” and provides instructions for creating a federal student aid card and completing the annual application.

“This is especially important for high school seniors and current UW students, including UW students who have not previously enrolled,” Jay Rothman, president of the UW system, said during a Thursday meeting of the UW board of directors in Eau Claire. “This is the first step in participating in the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a new program we recently announced.”

Rothman announced in August the launch of the Wisconsin Tuition Promise initiative, which waives tuition and fees not covered by financial aid for students from families earning less than $62,000 a year. The system will begin accepting tuition fees in fall 2023.

The UW system anticipates that 8,000 students will qualify for the tuition waiver once the initiative is fully implemented over the next four years. Average awards are expected to be around $4,500. It is estimated that tuition will cost around $13.8 million in the 2023-24 school year. Rothman’s first budget proposal requests an additional $24.5 million from the state Legislature on an ongoing basis to support funding.

READ :  Biden admin bets half a million on artificial intelligence that detects microaggressions on social media

“At the end of the day, we’re in a war for talent in this state,” Rothman said. “We don’t fill the positions that employers in the state of Wisconsin have, be they nurses, engineers, teachers, data scientists, and the list goes on and on.”

Sign up for daily news!

Stay up to date with WPR’s email newsletter.

In addition to boosting the state economy, the UW system’s tuition waiver and FAFSA graduation campaigns also aim to stem the long-term decline in enrollment at most state universities and affiliates. Estimates by the UW System Administration Office show enrollment declines of between 3 and 6 percent at nine of the state’s 13 universities. After peaking at 182,090 students at all UW System campuses in 2010, enrollment fell approximately 11 percent to a total of 161,430 students this fall, according to the latest estimates.

Enrollment declines coupled with a decade-long freeze on undergraduate tuition increases mandated by the Wisconsin legislature and significant budget cuts under Republican and Democratic governors have strained campus budgets. This has forced state universities to spend tuition with some staff cuts to stay solvent.

The Wisconsin Tuition Promise was first proposed by former UW System president and four-year Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in his 2020 budget proposal. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers supported the proposal and included it in his biennial state budget, but Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee rejected it.

Louisiana leads the nation in FAFSA completion, with just over 70 percent of high school students applying for federal aid. It became the first state in the nation to require most public school students to submit an application in 2018. Lawmakers in Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New York and South Carolina were considering similar requirements this year.

READ :  Global non-profit health system Cleveland Clinic and IBM begin installation of IBM Quantum System

When asked if Wisconsin should work toward a FAFSA requirement for public school students, Rothman said he spoke to state superintendent for public education Jill Underly about the issue.

“We would definitely look forward to working with the[Department of Public Instruction],” Rothman said, “and I think the DPI is very interested as well.”

In the meantime, Rothman said, the state university system and the public school system could build “greater collaboration” aimed at encouraging more public students to apply.