The Higher Education Aids Board (HEAB) is a part-time independent policy-making board made up of eleven members who are appointed by the Governor.  In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Executive Secretary John Reinemann discussed the role of HEAB, the Wisconsin Grant, and the changes being made to the application process for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

HEAB oversees the Wisconsin Grant, HEAB’s largest grant program. The program totaled $104 million for 2015-16, and is need based grant money. Students in Wisconsin can apply for the Wisconsin Grant by completing the FAFSA. To be eligible for Wisconsin Grant funds students must be a resident of Wisconsin, be a student in good standing, be a full-time or part-time student (differs depending on school), and be enrolled (or enrolling) in an eligible institution. For Wisconsin, the eligible institutions include the UW System schools (including extension and colleges), the Wisconsin Technical College System Schools, WAICU (which has 21 participating schools), and two tribal schools. Wisconsin Grant funds are only eligible for non-post graduate work; Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts and Associate degrees. Students attending for-profit schools are not eligible for Wisconsin grant funds. The Wisconsin Grant is divided into four sectors: UW System, Wisconsin Technical College System, private not-for-profit institutions, and two Wisconsin Tribal schools.  Each sector receives a portion of the grant money, and their portion is divided up based on recommendations from the governing body of that sector. For 2015-16, the Wisconsin Grant was divided:

Grant Dollars Spent Awards
UW System $58,317,618 32,886
WTC System $19,464,095 24,275
WI Tribal Colleges $451,759 342
Not-for Profit Schools (WAICU) $27,686,300 10,305

The FAFSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Traditionally a student fills out the form and submits it starting January 1 of their senior year in high school (and each subsequent year they are in school). However, this year the U.S. Dept. of Education changed the timeframe.  Students may now begin submitting the FAFSA Oct. 1.  Students can first complete the form their senior year, so students can be applying for colleges and filing a FAFSA at the same time. Because the U.S. Dept. of Education decided to change the application date, information on the FAFSA will be using the prior-prior year family income information.  To clarify, students can begin filing their FAFSA applications for the 2017-18 school year on October 1, 2016, and will use information from their 2015 family income (tax filing) information. Reinemann said that previously HEAB would start receiving applications in January and generally the grant money would start to run out by March and April.  Reinemann said the same may happen with the changes in application dates, but it might not be as immediate in this first year since not everyone is aware of the application time changes.Reinemann emphasized that there is more financial need than eligible grant money. Reinemann said Wisconsin Grant funds are determined based on financial need, but the money is distributed based on when individuals completed their FAFSA, saying that the earlier people complete the FAFSA, the more likely they will receive funds they may be eligible for since HEAB runs out of funds before HEAB runs out of eligible applicants. Reinemann said they encourage students to complete the FAFSA even if they don’t think they will receive aid because it is also the form used by individual institutions for institutional grants.  Reinemann said students should fill out the FAFSA early and do it every year.

Reinemann said that the Wisconsin Grant fund appropriation has been largely static over the past four years, but emphasizes that the fund is a GPR fund and they are competing with other programs like the Dept. of Corrections, the Dept. of Health Services, etc.  Reinemann says Gov. Walker has never reduced the appropriation and “that is tremendous when you look at other cuts in the past budgets. We (HEAB) always have students that qualify, but not enough money for them.  It is easy to say there should be more money, but we are fighting for resources in a world where everyone needs more money.” Reinemann went on to say that Gov. Walker has helped families by freezing tuition.

Reinemann concluded the interview by reminding families that HEAB does not offer student loans, but families should be informed consumers when applying and accepting student loans. Reinemann said, “Not all student loans are alike.” Reinemann emphasized that families should know the difference between consolidation and refinancing, and the difference between private sector student loans and federal government student loans. Reinemann told families to, “learn your options, and talk to financial aid officers.”