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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Regardless of legal status or residency, UW-Madison has an obligation to support all students’ holistic wellbeing, especially financial health.

UW must take greater responsibility for students’ financial health

Outside of loan options, students typically turn to financial aid and scholarships to finance their education. UW-Madison has multiple “Wisconsin Promises” in place for in-state students that qualify for financial aid, like Bucky’s Tuition Promise Plus, Badger Promise and the Financial Aid Security Track. 

While these are great programs for the students they serve, there isn’t strong enough of a financial safety framework for the rest of the student body, which includes out-of-state, undocumented and international students. Financial need transcends state and national borders, and legal status. 

Prospective out-of-state students can look at the Badger Aid for Nonresidents program for need-based financial aid. However, eligible students include only those in some of UW-Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement’s programs, Minnesota students whose families receive public assistance or students who are homeless or a ward of the court. They can also avail grants and scholarships. However, the disparity in available resources and tuition fees owed is seismic. Out-of-state students must pay nearly four times as much as in-state students: Wisconsin residents typically pay $5,370.98 every semester, while out-of-state students — excluding Minnesota reciprocity — pay $19,314.86.

As the flagship university of the state of Wisconsin, UW-Madison is rightly a lucrative educational destination for students even outside of Wisconsin. Out-of-state students with the desire to attend this institution should not be priced out of their dreams. 

Available financial aid resources and many of the scholarship opportunities on the Wisconsin Scholarship Hub require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to establish financial need. Placing this form as a requirement places non-citizen and undocumented applicants out of consideration for most aid and scholarship opportunities. Among them are international students, who pay the most in fees out of anyone, exceeding out-of-state students by $500, typically paying $19,814.90 each semester.

The pathway to providing non-citizens the aid they need or the scholarships they deserve is not as straightforward as university action alone. International students are granted visas on the basis of their financial capability, while the consideration of undocumented students as in-state students is a legislative decision at state level. Current Wisconsin law deems undocumented students ineligible for in-state tuition, forcing them to pay out-of-state rates despite meeting physical residence requirements.

The pandemic has made these roadblocks more apparent, with the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund explicitly leaving out undocumented and international students due to their institutionalized ineligibility for federal aid

UW-Madison set up emergency financial support that accommodates all students, but more must be done. Lawsuits in California and Washington state against the exclusion of students from the relief fund resulted in victories for the California community college system and institutions in Washington state, enabling them to disburse funds to previously ineligible students. 

These victories are localized, but set a clear precedent. In a similar vein to these lawsuits, UW-Madison must take strong action in the best interests of students that are left out of aid and scholarship conversations.

Financial well-being is an essential aspect of a student’s holistic well-being. It gives students one less thing to worry about as they work towards achieving educational and career goals. It also helps attract the best and brightest minds.

UW-Madison must take greater responsibility and act more assertively in the best interests of all students.

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