UWM to forgive $5.1 million in student debt with federal relief funding

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone. (Photo: Elora Hennessey, UWM Photo Services)

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee announced it will use federal stimulus funding to eliminate $5.1 million in student debt incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university said it will forgive students’ outstanding balances from the 2020-’21 school year to wipe away the debt of more than 2,000 students, who owe an average of $2,700.

In most cases, the amount owed is for tuition or housing, but any unpaid university bill is eligible for forgiveness, UWM said.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our students and their families,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Many lost jobs and incurred additional expenses for child care and health care. We established new scholarships, emergency grants and low-cost computer purchase programs to help, but we know for some, the need was greater. By forgiving their debt from the past year, we hope to give them a fresh start.”

UWM is using a portion of its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund institutional funding to pay for the debt relief program.

The university also received federal relief funding to provide $25 million in emergency grants during the 2021-’22 school year for students impacted by COVID-19.

The debt relief applies to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at any of the three UWM campuses, including Milwaukee, Waukesha and Washington County. The outstanding balances will be forgiven automatically. Students don’t need to be currently enrolled; about 100 students who have graduated will have their debt forgiven.

“We are grateful for the federal aid our campus is receiving, and we feel strongly that the best way to use it is to help our students,” said Kay Eilers, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. “We know that last year was hard in so many ways. We want our students to know that we are with them, and we will do everything we can to help them achieve their goals and earn their degrees.”

UWM is also setting aside $500,000 for students who do not have outstanding balances from the 2020-‘21 school year but faced financial hardship. Those grants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.

One-third of UWM undergraduates are eligible for federal Pell grants for students from low-income families, and 78% receive some form of financial aid. Thirty-five percent are the first in their families to go to college.

Milwaukee Area Technical College also recently announced it would wipe out nearly $6 million of debt owed by students who attended the college during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.

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