Student leaders ask for more financial aid

Student leaders expressed a strong need for increased need-based financial aid at a UW System Board of Regents meeting with student representatives from United Council and the Student Representatives Council earlier this month.

“If (the Board of Regents) is going to help out the students paying for college, I think that’s a good idea,” freshman Marc Opicka said.

Opicka said he’s on his own when it comes to paying for college, though he receives some financial aid. However, a little more financial aid from the System would definitely help him out, he said.

Soon after the discussion meeting, the Board directed the System to look into implementing a private fundraising campaign to supplement state and federal need-based financial aid, according to a Board press release. This would aim to double the System’s current levels of privately funded, need-based financial aid, which is about $6 million annually.

Opicka said as long as the money is not taken from another worthy source, he thinks the fundraising campaign is a good idea.

UW-Eau Claire student body president Ray French, a member of the Student Representatives Council, said Wisconsin is a “low-aid” state when compared to other public university systems in the country. For example, Minnesota gives away about three times as much financial aid as Wisconsin, according to UW System statistics.

“(The Regents) have been a little less aggressive . than we would have hoped,” French said.

French said one difference in the student and administration opinion was how to increase the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant every year. Right now, it increases at the same percentage that tuition increases, but students would rather have a “dollar-for-dollar” increase, French said.

When Student Senate conducted a survey of students last year, French said 87 percent of respondents expressed that “keeping tuition costs down” was their No. 1 priority. Since this is such a major concern, French said he is glad the System is looking to address financial aid increases.

“If we can alleviate that (concern) by giving away financial aid,” French said, “we should definitely do that.”

The increase in financial aid would mainly benefit low-income students, he added.

French said the fundraising campaign would allow for a more creative use of endowments that are left to the System or individual universities.

Within this plan, private donations could be collected through the System Web site, where potential donors could also choose the institution to receive their money, according to the press release.

Other priorities students raised at the discussion session for the upcoming budget, besides increasing need-based financial aid, include: domestic partner benefits for UW System employees, full funding of mental health counseling programs on UW campuses, support for a Veteran Remissions Program, with complete funding from the state and increased pay to improve recruitment and retention of UW faculty and staff.