Wisconsin senator proposes free tuition for tech and 2-year campuses

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Free tuition to college may seem too good to be true but a state lawmaker is looking to make it a reality.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) is proposing a bill that would make tuition free at Wisconsin's technical colleges and two-year campuses.

Vinehout says her own struggle to save enough money in order to attend a two-year college after graduation is a driving factor for the legislation.

She hopes the bill eliminates the financial barriers of others trying to seek a higher education.

Vinehout explained, “People are looking for an opportunity to follow their dreams, to get the skills they need for a better job. Often the perception of not being able to afford college is what keeps people out of college. I don't want that to ever be a barrier.”

At Chippewa Valley Technical College students like Haley Hedrington know how vital financial aid can be.

Hedington said, “Coming back to school for a full-time program I'm not able to work as much so definitely having that aid is helpful.”

Student Katie Reidt said without financial aid she wouldn’t have had access to a higher education.

“I might have had to have taken a semester off or two just to work and save up, but even then I have education and career goals I need to achieve,” said Reidt.

President of CVTC, Bruce Barker, said over 70% of its students utilize financial aid.

“We’ve seen that student debt is a tremendous anchor on our economy,” said Barker. “Students come out, they graduate but they have so much debt that they can't buy cars, they can't buy homes and so it's very, very difficult for them to get a start and that really penalizes our entire community.”

However the potential new legislation would apply to all students whether they’re full-time or part-time and it would not require enrollment in a degree program.

“We need to open wide the doors of higher education and get everybody a chance to get that degree, or to get that training they need to get that better job,” said Vinehout.

The program would cost around $325-$350 million and be paid for through a Wisconsin manufacturing tax credit.

Vinehout explained, “I take one of those 43 tax credits and I apply that money to the free tuition program to fully fund free tuition using the existing resources of the state.”

Vinehout is running for Wisconsin governor however she does say she hopes lawmakers will consider this a non-partisan issue.

WEAU did reach out to Governor Walker's office for comment but have yet to hear back.

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