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Thousands of students earned their degrees at Camp Randall Stadium in May 2018. Under a bill to be introduced soon, out-of-state students graduating from a UW school would be eligible for grant money if they stay living and working in Wisconsin.  

Out-of-state students graduating from UW-Madison would be eligible for up to about $54,000 in grant money if they lived and worked in Wisconsin for a seven-year period after graduation under a Republican bill introduced in the Legislature.

The bill, authored by Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee, aims to reduce Wisconsin’s workforce shortage by encouraging out-of-state college students — a group that has rarely been offered incentives by the state before — to live and work in Wisconsin.

Tapping into a growing disparity between resident and nonresident tuition rates, the bill allows nonresident graduates to “earn” in-state tuition after graduation.

About a quarter of the 175,000 students enrolled at University of Wisconsin campuses came from out of state in the 2017-18 academic year.

The bill would be particularly attractive at UW-Madison, where the percentage of nonresident students has increased over the past decade. In 2009, about a quarter of undergraduates were out-of-state students. In 2018, a third of the undergraduate class came from out of state.

How many of those students stay in Wisconsin after graduation is less clear.

The most recent UW System data show roughly 90% of Wisconsin residents who graduated from a UW campus in 2013-14 were living in Wisconsin a year later. Just 10% of Minnesota students graduating from a UW campus that year stayed in Wisconsin and about 17% of other nonresidents stayed in Wisconsin a year later.

About 3% of Wisconsin Technical College System graduates in 2017-18, or about 750 students, were nonresidents. Figures on how many of them work in Wisconsin after graduation were unavailable.

How it works

Under Murphy’s bill, nonresidents graduating from any UW institution or technical college who live and work in Wisconsin after graduation would be eligible for up to five annual grants each worth 10% of the total difference between resident and nonresident tuition charged over the student’s career.

The bill applies to graduates earning an associate or bachelor’s degree after July 1.

For example, UW-Madison charged nonresident undergraduates about $27,000 more this year than Wisconsin residents, so a Chicagoan who graduates from the university in four years paid about $108,000 more. Under the proposed bill, the student would be eligible for a roughly $10,800 grant each year for up to five consecutive years. (That’s assuming no adjustments are made to either tuition rate over the four-year period, which is unlikely.)

At other UW campuses and technical colleges, the difference in nonresident and resident tuition is much lower, so the amount that a graduate could earn back is also less.

There’s a few catches to the bill.

First, students must continuously live and work in Wisconsin for at least a two-year grace period before becoming eligible.

Second, graduates earning less than $40,000 would not be eligible under the bill.

Murphy said the goal of the bill is to attract young adults at the beginning of long-term careers, not those with low-paying or part-time jobs in which a degree isn’t required.

The bill’s language is unclear on whether people earning less than $40,000 in the two-year grace period would be eligible if they reach the income threshold when the five-year period begins. For example, the average starting salary for a Wisconsin teacher in 2017-18 was $38,181, according to the National Education Association.

Determining eligibility would be at the discretion of the Higher Educational Aids Board, which would cut the checks to qualifying candidates, according to Michael Moscicke, a staff member of Murphy’s office.

The cost of the program — up to $15 million in annual grants — could “easily pay for itself” as the state’s tax base grows, Murphy said.

Worker shortage

Murphy introduced the bill last session, but it failed to gain traction because the Legislature had more pressing priorities at the time, he said.

He said he’s received calls from some Democrats about the bill, which he took as a good sign.

“We have so many unfilled jobs,” Murphy said. “The problem is there’s no one simple answer. There’s lots of little things you can do.”

Department of Workforce Development projections estimate Wisconsin will have about 210,000 more jobs in 2026 than there were in 2016 and almost a third of those will require at least an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The department’s chief economist, Dennis Winters, said in an interview that communities across the country are introducing incentives to lure talent.

For example, remote workers who move to Vermont are eligible to receive up to $10,000. Passed last year, the bill’s sponsor said part of the hope is to retain some of the state’s college students.

Some Republicans have criticized Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-21 budget proposal for not doing enough to address the state’s workforce shortage.

DWD spokesman Tyler Tichenor argued Evers’ budget is holistic, raising the quality of life for residents in a way that makes the state attractive to outsiders.

Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the governor looks forward to finding common ground with Republicans on areas such as higher education. She did not answer a question on whether Evers would sign the bill into law if it passes the Legislature.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.