Government Relations

Testimony on Pending Legislation: Senate Bill 152

Before Senate Veterans Homeland Security
Military Affairs Small Business and Government Reform
April 21, 2005
Testimony of Margaret Lewis
Associate Vice President for Government Relations
University of Wisconsin System

Chairman Brown, committee members, I am Margaret Lewis, representing the University of Wisconsin System.

I am here today to support SB 152 for two reasons: (1) More financial aid is needed to assist low income students, and (2) more assistance is needed to help adults already in Wisconsin to advance their skills to increase their income, and grow the Wisconsin economy.

Last summer the Board of Regents completed a year long study to address the future needs of higher education in the state. On page 15 of the report, Charting a New Course for the UW System, the Board notes that Wisconsin must increase student financial aid to ensure access for students of all income levels, including a “hold harmless’ program that would provide students from the lowest income level with grants to cover the costs of tuition increases.” Some of this financial aid will come from state grants, more is needed. This bill can help leverage those additional resources.

Access to education is fundamental to Wisconsin’s future prosperity. Future economic growth and vitality depend on an educated workforce. Today, 70 percent of “new economy” jobs require a college degree. Our goal is for all qualified students to be able to enter the UW System.

Financial aid is the key to providing access for those who cannot otherwise afford higher education. Lack of access will perpetuate the cycle of poverty for Wisconsin’s poorest students and their families.

We find a disturbing trend: fewer and fewer low-income students in Wisconsin are enrolling in UW institutions. Specifically, 37 percent of new UW freshmen from the lowest-two family income quintiles enrolled in 1992. Ten years later that measure was 30 percent. Over this period, Wisconsin has moved from a low-tuition/low aid philosophy to an average-tuition/uncertain-aid reality.

In this environment, declining low and moderate-income access must be reversed by providing adequate financial aid to ensure access to students from all income groups.

SB 152, by offering a larger tax credit to businesses who invest in their low income employees’ education leverages private funds to provide “financial aid” for needy students and this aid is targeted to non-traditional students.

Thank you for your support of this and other financial aid included in the Governor’s budget.