Considering free tuition for all UW students is unrealistic for the simple fact that it raises taxes in a state whose residents, if not the politicians, know that it is already on the high end on the tax scale. We can accomplish the objective, which is to keep students in Wisconsin after graduation, with a much better and actually workable solution.
First, the state would make student loans available to any student enrolled in the UW or Wisconsin Tech systems. The loans would be made at slightly above market yet fair rates (keep reading) and would be easily available through any participating loan institution. The state would fund the loans from a variety of currently available funds or simply borrow the money.
Upon graduation, or leaving the system, the student would receive an annual statement based on a long-term repayment schedule. Let’s say 20 years just for the sake of argument. Annual payments would be required or a person would be in default of the loan, so not a free ride but, once again, keep reading.
Finally students would be able to deduct the interest portion of the loan from the bottom line on their Wisconsin State tax return. The net effect is that students would be able to attend UW or tech campuses in the state of Wisconsin and would have 20 years to repay the state interest free, as long as the student was an employee in the state and paid state income tax.
The cost to the state would be the interest on the original loan. This brings me back to the above-market rate used to establish the loans. A student leaving the state would be repaying the state at a higher rate than the actual cost of the loan and thus subsidizing the loan of the student who remains in the state. Not exactly a no-cost option, but exponentially less expensive than the free tuition option.
The incentive to remain in the state after graduation is high and the real opportunity for our students to pursue a post secondary education is exceptional.