Higher Education Student Aid in Wisconsin

There are four major sources of student financial aid: the federal government, state programs, higher education institutions, and private or community-based organizations. According to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau January 2019 Informational Paper #34, “Of the need-based aid provided to resident undergraduate students in 2016-17, $701.5 million was awarded through federal programs (71.4%); $136.6 million was awarded through institutional programs (13.9%); $115.4 million was awarded through state grant programs administered by the Higher Educational Aids Board programs (11.7%); $13.6 million was awarded though other state programs (1.4%); and $15.7 million was provided by private sources (1.6%).”


Grants and Scholarships. Grants and scholarships are often referred to as “gift aid” because the money does not need to be repaid at a future time.  Grants are often need-based, meaning the amount appropriated is based on the individual’s or their family’s ability to pay, while scholarships are usually merit-based, meaning the amount is based on an individual’s skill or ability.

The Pell Grant is a federal grant which is the largest source of need-based grant aid for undergraduate students. Pell grants are usually awarded to students with the highest need. According to LFB, “In 2016-17, 68% of all Pell grant recipients came from families with annual incomes of less than $30,000; 98% came from families with incomes of less than $60,000.”

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are also federal need-based grants.  FSEOG is a campus-based program and the funds are allocated to participating institutions.  Students may also receive Federal Work-Study (FWS) funds, a program which provides students with part-time employment while attending school.  In most cases, the school or the employer must pay up to a 50% share of a student’s wages, while the remaining 50% is paid by the federal program.

As reported by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), Wisconsin has seen a decrease of more than 35,000 Pell Grants available to Wisconsin students, translating to a decrease in the amount of Pell Grants in total dollars by more than $82 million over a seven year period.

Loans.  Loans are a form of financial aid that require repayment in the future. While most loans are what someone would consider a typical loan, there are loans that can be repaid through service in specific careers, for example, some student loans for teaching can be forgiven by teaching in high need areas.  The terms of these programs are established by the lender, whether that is the state, federal government, or a private entity.

Federal student loans include:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans. (Loans made available to undergraduate students who show financial need)
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans. (Loans made to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students whose eligibility is not based on financial need.)
  • Direct PLUS Loans. (Loans made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students.)

Statistically, Wisconsin has seen a decrease in the total amount of federal loans provided over the past six years, as well as the number of federal loans provided.


Wisconsin aid is administered through the Higher Educational Aids Board. The Board consists of 11 members: the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, one member from the UW Board of Regents, one from the Wisconsin Technical College System Board, and a Board of Trustees of an independent college or university; three financial aid administrators, three undergraduate students; and one member of the general public. All members, except the State Superintendent, are appointed by the Governor and serve staggered three-year terms.  The student members serve two-year terms.

Wisconsin Aid

  • Wisconsin Grant: A state need-based grant to resident undergraduates who are enrolled at least half-time.
  • Ben R. Lawton Minority Undergraduate Grant (UW System): Provides up to $4,000 annually to resident minority undergraduate students enrolled at UW institutions.
  • Tuition Assistance Grants (UW System): Need-based grants to resident undergraduate students.
  • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Training Grants (DWD): Individuals with a physical or mental impairment which results in an impediment to employment.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Grants (Federal): Need-based grants to students who are members of a federally recognized tribe.
  • National Guard Tuition Grants (Military Affairs): Wisconsin National Guard members are eligible to receive reimbursement grants equal to 100% of the actual tuition charged.
  • Talent Incentive Grant Program (TIP): Grants to the most needy and educationally disadvantaged students.
  • Study Abroad Grants (UW System): Provides need-based grants up to $2,000 to resident undergraduate students who participate in study abroad programs.
  • Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant: Provides need-based grants to minority resident undergraduate students enrolled at least half-time.
  • Indian Student Assistance Grant: Funds awarded to residents who are at least one-quarter Native American or are recognized as member of a tribe.
  • Veterans Tuition and Free Reimbursement Grants (Veterans Affairs):  100% reimbursement of the cost of an eligible veteran’s undergraduate tuition and fees.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant (Federal): Provides grants of up to $4,000 per year to students who intend to teach in a high-needs field in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves low-income students.
  • Emergency Grants (UW System and WTCS): Provides grants to students enrolled in UW Colleges and the Wisconsin Technical College System.
  • Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (UW System): Provides need-based grants to students who are members of underrepresented groups and who are enrolled in a program which would lead to a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison Nelson Institution for Environmental Students.
  • Handicapped Student Grant (HEAB): Wisconsin resident students who have a sever or profound hearing or visual impairment and are enrolled as undergraduates at an in-state or eligible out-of-state public or private institution.
  • Advanced Opportunity Program (UW System): Provides grants to minority and disadvantaged graduate students at UW institutions.
  • Nursing Student Loan (HEAB): Need-based loans to residents enrolled at least half-time to be an RN or LPN.
  • Teacher Loan Program (HEAB): Provides loans of up to $10,000 annually to residents enrolled in programs to become teachers.
  • Minority Teacher Loan (HEAB): Provides loans of up to $10,000 annually to a minority resident enrolled in a program to become a teacher.
  • School Leadership Loan Program: Loan program for students at UW institutions working towards a degree in school leadership.
  • Loans for Teachers and Mobility Instructors of Visually Impaired Pupils (HEAB): Provides loans up to $10,000 per year for students enrolled in a program to obtain a license as teachers of visually impaired pupils.
  • Wisconsin Covenant (HEAB): A scholarship program to students who have been designated as Wisconsin Covenant scholars and are enrolled in UW institutions, technical colleges, private, nonprofit colleges and universities, and tribal colleges in Wisconsin.
  • Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship (HEAB): Provides scholarships to high school seniors who have the highest GPA in each public, private and tribal high school in Wisconsin.
  • Teacher Excellence Scholarship (HEAB): Provided to high school seniors with the highest level of proficiency in technical education subjects.
  • License Plate Scholarships (DOT and UW System): Revenue generated by a $20 annual fee charged for specialty license plates.
  • Sustainable Management Scholarship (UW-Extension): Scholarships to students enrolled in the sustainable management degree program through UW Extension.

Additionally, there are seven different remissions programs, and other programs like medical school and dental programs, colleges programs, and another 8-10 tax programs.  

In 2017-18, 29,622 UW System students, 23,619 Wisconsin Technical College Students, and 9,993 private nonprofit students received Wisconsin Grants, totaling just over $107 million.