More tuition aid open to students

New private and public investments are providing additional financial aid for students in the UW System, including those attending UW-Eau Claire.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly announced recently that nearly 2,000 UW students received $1.76 million in new need-based assistance from the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars last semester, according to a UW System press release. The FFWS is a private, non-profit fund established through a $175 million gift from John and Tashia Morgridge.

Thirty-three Eau Claire students received grants from the FFWS last semester, totaling $57,750. The FFWS also gave out 146 stipends to Eau Claire students for a total $45,500.

Eau Claire also saw a 2 percent increase in the number of students who receive need-based financial aid. At this time last year, 7,349 students received need-based financial aid. Now 7,514 students receive need-based financial aid. Additionally, 1,949 students have received more than $6 million in Pell grants, a number that is expected to rise next year, said Kathleen Sahlhoff, Eau Claire’s director of financial aid.

As the economy continues to be a concern, Sahlhoff said that contrary to what some may expect, when people are going through tougher times, the financial aid office awards more money.

“The financial aid program hasn’t received a decrease in their funding,” Sahlhoff said. “Actually (they) have received an increase and the stimulus bill will give an even further increase.”

Sahlhoff also said she expects more students to qualify for need-based aid this year. Currently, 40 to 45 percent of Eau Claire students qualify. Additionally, the money generated through private scholarships will allow the financial aid office to reduce what those students would otherwise take out in loans, Sahlhoff said.

“It is important that we welcome receiving as much funding in gift assistance as possible,” Sahlhoff said. “Students win if we increase gift assistance . we want to encourage that and support that as much as we can.”

Sahlhoff hopes the FFWS program and others like it will encourage other private donors to contribute to other programs for students with need-based aid.

“Everybody wins if people have access to higher education,” Sahlhoff said. “It, makes good economic . sense to ensure that we make access to higher education affordable.”

Sahlhoff said she is seeing strong recognition at the national and state levels that higher education is an important investment in the nation’s future. She said she doesn’t know what will happen with the next budget cuts, but she feels there is still a lot of support behind increasing the amount of grant money given out, even during budget cuts.

At the institutional level, Sahlhoff said the financial aid office is doing what it can to help everyone who is eligible for aid access every single penny they can.

They encourage everyone to fill out the free, online financial aid application. The application considers adjusted gross income, assets and other information. Once completed, the application goes through a formula and eventually shows what can be given in aid, Sahlhoff said.

“One of the counselors in the office likes to say ‘Even Bill Gates’ kids,’ everybody is eligible for some aid through the federal loan programs,” Sahlhoff said. “The mind set in our office is that our job is to help people to get as much of the money that they are eligible for as they can.”