Gov. Doyle speaks to LU Board of Trustees

Stephen X. Flynn

Wisconsin’s Governor Jim Doyle paid a short visit to the Lawrence University Board of Trustees May 4 to promote his new proposal on college education.
This marks Doyle’s first formal visit with the Board of Trustees and the first major visit to campus since his 2004 appearance alongside Senator John Kerry at a campaign rally in front of Alexander Gymnasium.
Speaking in the Downer Commons Barber Room, the governor opened with initial remarks about Lawrence and its impact on the surrounding community and state.
He spoke of the university’s role in the revival of downtown Appleton, and the “brain gain” that Wisconsin enjoys from attracting academics from around the country and the world to its institutes of higher education.
“Lawrence has been vital to this state,” Doyle said, as well as a “tremendous benefit”. Doyle stated that a high number of college graduates is vital for any state to succeed, and after promising to increase state tuition grants by 6 percent annually, he then laid out his new plan.
The education proposal, titled the Wisconsin Covenant, was first introduced in Doyle’s 2006 State of the State address and promises all Wisconsin eighth-graders placement at a University of Wisconsin campus as long as they maintain a B average, stay out of legal trouble, and maintain good character.
The amount of grants and loans promised by the state would depend on the need demonstrated by the student. The governor hopes that his new plan will create an incentive for students entering high school to work hard in the classroom.
Costs for the program are expected to reach between $6 million and $7 million, according to the governor. Within a state budget of approximately $52 billion, Doyle considers the potential costs to be insignificant.
Wisconsin would not be the first state to develop a specific program designed to increase college enrollment. Two states currently have a program similar to the one Doyle announced.
Indiana started the 21st Century Scholars program in 1990, enrolling over 5,700 students, and has since expanded to allocate more than $10 million in grants to over 10,000 eighth-graders each academic year.
The Carolina Covenant is another such initiative, the stated purpose of which is to make an education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill an affordable achievement.
The Wisconsin Covenant is yet to be introduced formally to the State Assembly. When asked by a member of the Board of Trustees on the specifics of the program, the governor declined to provide detail on what the program might entail. Many questions about how the program might be administered still linger.
It is unknown whether the Wisconsin Covenant would cover the entire cost of attendance like the North Carolina program – which even provides a grant to purchase a notebook computer – or would only cover tuition costs like the Indiana program.
At Lawrence, costs outside of tuition total over $8,000 per year. Even at state schools like UW-Madison, where tuition costs for residents are traditionally one-fifth of that at Lawrence, non-tuition fees still match or exceed those of Lawrentians.
Toward the end of the meeting, Doyle emphasized that at this point he has focused mainly on the general ideas of the covenant, and that there will be time later to discuss specifics. The proposed initiative is to be headed by Doyle’s wife, Jessica Doyle.
Governor Doyle will be seeking reelection this November.