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Friday, June 21, 2024
UW System President Ray Cross praised the GOP proposal to create a new merit-based scholarship for Wisconsin students in a press conference Tuesday.

UW System President Ray Cross praised the GOP proposal to create a new merit-based scholarship for Wisconsin students in a press conference Tuesday.

Merit Scholarship would create 'largest scholarship in state history' for students who attend UW

To avoid losing Wisconsin’s top students to other top universities, state lawmakers and agency officials presented a bill Tuesday establishing “the largest scholarship in state history” for UW schools.

The scholarship, referred to as the Wisconsin Merit Scholarship, would grant $5,000 per student based off metrics such as test scores and GPA. This bill would be a boost from the current Wisconsin Excellence Scholarship, which gives $2,175 per student.

The scholarship would only be available to students from Wisconsin who attend a UW System school. The Board of Regents would decide who receives the scholarships.

Co-sponsor of the bill, Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, was joined by state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk and UW System President Ray Cross to unveil the scholarship. Lawmakers argue the program would keep Wisconsin competitive among other state universities that offer Wisconsin students affordable options for higher education.

Money for this scholarship will come from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands selling land to the state Department of Natural Resources through the stewardship program, which would bring in $5 million to the state per year. The bill proposes selling 70,000 acres of land located in northern Wisconsin.

The land is worth roughly $80 million, according to Adamczyk, commissioner of the BCPL. If the land is actually worth that amount is up for debate. BCPL’s executive director told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he is skeptical that the agency could get most of the money for the land by selling it all to the DNR.

For the next eight years, the DNR would purchase the land for $10 million. The interest from the purchase would go toward the new merit scholarship.

Overtime, the bill aims to have over 1,000 scholarships available to give each student $5,000 with potential for the state to increase that amount in the future.

“I’m really excited about this, this is amazing,” Cross said. “This is creative ... we are competing today with other states who are offering full rides to the best and brightest from our state, and we’re losing too many of them. This is a way for us to attempt to keep them and retain them.”

Cross said he is going to encourage all legislators to support the proposal.

Nass, co-sponsor and vice-chair of the committee on universities and technical colleges, said a key element of the scholarship is to help students of all incomes. Nass explained that the decision to base who gets the scholarship monies on merit will aid students of all incomes and address the “brain drain” that stems from losing students to other colleges.

“We haven’t done enough for the merit-based ... this goes a long way to accomplishing that,” said Nass. “I think it’s got the potential to be a turning point, a game-changer, for the state of Wisconsin in keeping our brightest and our best.”

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The bill will circulate for co-sponsors this week and is set to be formally introduced next week. 

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