Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Need-based tuition waivers spreading across public universities

Sometimes in the course of understanding Illinois, it helps to look across its borders to ponder issues in neighboring states.

Today we consider Wisconsin, where The Associated Press Monday reported on the state university system offering tuition waivers at its 12 regional campuses. The effort follows Bucky’s Tuition Promise at the Madison flagship. In-state families who make less than $62,000 per year will pay nothing beyond what financial aid packages cover. Undergraduates are eligible for up to eight semesters, transfers and those pursuing associate degrees qualify for four.

Scott T. Holland

The average discount is $4,500 per student. The system set aside $13.8 million to cover the 2023-2024 year and will ask the state for $24.5 million to cover the following year. There’s no need to apply beyond completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The University of Illinois has a similar program, capping eligibility at $67,100 annual income. Housing, books and most fees aren’t included, as is the case with tuition waiver efforts at Northeastern, Eastern and Southern Illinois universities. Northern and Western Illinois and Illinois State universities have several partial waiver options. Chicago State University covers everything for freshmen of need, once they finish a five-week summer program.

The main difference in Wisconsin is a unified system. In Illinois, with many separate administrations, statewide implementation involves learning from pilot site efforts – and often nudges from lawmakers.

GET YOUR HIKE ON: It’s the most wonderful time of the year … for northeastern Illinois walking enthusiasts. On Monday the Lake County Forest Preserve District opened the annual Hike Lake County challenge. Participants can download a travel log and must complete seven of 12 designated trails by Nov. 30, then submit their log by the end of January to earn a commemorative medallion or zipper pull and, for four-legged friends, a special collar tag.

“Hike” is a strong word. The county isn’t known for elevation, most trails are crushed gravel paths or wooden bridges, and the segments range from 1.1 to 2.75 miles, all marked with signs (the 2-mile trails count double), so it’s perfect for beginners. The fun is in using the list as incentive to explore different parts of the system each year, and there’s a noticeable uptick in social media activity during the season, yielding free advertising.

Though generally my writing focus is on state parks, it’s worth noting the abundance of high quality parks and recreational opportunities at the county level throughout Illinois.

Does your county have an incentive program? The Kane County FPD starts monthly senior strolls Sept. 1.

What are your favorite county parks and trails? I’m more than willing to help spread the word – and add to my own list of future outings.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at