Lakeland University offering Milwaukee-area students a tuition-free first year of college

Lakeland University is offering Milwaukee-area students the opportunity to take tuition-free courses for their first year of college.

The university, based in rural Sheboygan County, says the new Milwaukee Co-Op year program is an opportunity for students to test drive college while they figure out their education and career plans – without taking on debt.

It’s an extension of Lakeland’s existing Cooperative Education program, which places students in jobs with area companies to gain professional work experience while also earning college credit and wages to defray their tuition cost.

The new Milwaukee program will have students taking courses at Lakeland’s Milwaukee center, located at 9000 W. Chester St., during their first year. The university will also help students find part-time employment at a Milwaukee-area employer partner. The Milwaukee program is designed specifically for students who are unsure whether they want to go to college or work.

“After discussions with students, families, schools and various student-centered programs in Milwaukee, we better understand the barriers to college for high school students, and this program is designed to remove those barriers,” said Lakeland president Beth Borgen.

By year’s end, Milwaukee co-op students will complete 28 to 31 college credits (equivalent to a full-time freshman year) and at least 320 hours of part-time employment, the university said.

Students will work with a Lakeland mentor to figure out their next steps after the first year. That could mean earning a two-year or four-year degree from the university’s Milwaukee or Lakeland campus, transferring to another college or continuing in the workforce.

“Obviously, we hope these students find value in Lakeland after their year with us and want to continue their Lakeland journey,” Borgen said. “But this is about helping young people find the best pathway for their future, and we can leverage our popular co-op program to do that.”

With the introduction of the co-op and other programs, Lakeland leaders have said their goal is to address economic impediments that prevent students from enrolling in and completing college. The university also sees the co-op program as a differentiator among other private liberal colleges, which are generally experiencing a decline in enrollment.

In fall 2020, Lakeland launched a free tuition program for qualifying students, becoming the first private college in the state do so. The program is available to in-state dependent students whose household adjusted gross income is less than $40,000 or independent students with an income of less than $15,000. It covers tuition and fees through state and federal funding and university funds.

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