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$175 million pledge to fund scholarships

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Gazette Staff and Associated Press
December 18, 2007

More local students might go to college because of a large scholarship endowment announced Tuesday.


But how big the impact might be was unclear this morning.


A couple who graduated from UW-Madison more than 50 years ago announced they would give $175 million to help high school graduates in the state advance their educations.


The donation from John Morgridge, former chairman of Cisco Systems, and his wife, Tashia, a retired teacher, is to provide about 2,000 grants of $1,000 to $5,000 for the 2008-2009 school year, and more than 3,000 grants annually after that.


“What a wonderful opportunity for the students in Wisconsin, to have this kind of commitment for someone not even living in our state anymore,” said Sharyn Sheen, a guidance counselor at Janesville Craig High School. “I think this could give hope to people who may not otherwise consider college.”


The Morgridges, who long have donated to educational causes, are establishing the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars. The fund is for lower-income, talented graduates of Wisconsin public schools attending a Wisconsin public post-secondary school.


The scholarships would benefit some of the tens of thousands of students who will attend the state’s public institutions of higher education. The University of Wisconsin System comprises 13 four-year campuses and the 13 two-year colleges. In addition, the state has 16 technical colleges.


“When you get all those institutions, … it’s not going to go too far, but anything helps our students,” said Carol Miller, director of financial aid at UW-Whitewater.


“It’s a great thing they’re doing,” Miller added.


Sheen did the math: With 426 public school districts in the state, each high school might get three to five of these new scholarships, Sheen guessed.


“To have this number of grants being offered is really wonderful for the students in Wisconsin,” Sheen said. “Those students who get it, it’ll help immensely. It just depends on numbers.”


“This is just the start,” John Morgridge said. “We believe that the fund will grow substantially as others are inspired to join us in this effort.”


Miller was most excited by a suggestion that the fund might later be extended to middle-class students, who now often get nothing but loans for financial aid.


“When I saw that, I got really excited, because so many of our students leave college with a tremendous debt load, so if they could really expand it to those folks, I would be really elated,” Miller said. “But for the low-income (students), it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing.”


Students will be eligible to receive aid for up to 10 semesters.


“Wisconsin’s public high schools do an outstanding job of preparing students for higher education. We are committed to helping ensure that higher education is accessible and affordable,” Tashia Morgridge said in a news release.


A news conference was scheduled later today at Green Bay West High School.


“We have chosen to make the announcement at a public high school in Green Bay to underscore the fund’s commitment to students from every part of the state,” Tashia Morgridge said.


The Morgridges’ fund said in a statement that the money being provided by the couple would be “complementary” to the Wisconsin Covenant program but would not be state-run.


The covenant program promises a spot in one of the state’s universities or technical colleges to eighth-graders who sign a pledge and earn a B average in high school, take college preparatory courses, stay out of trouble and perform community service.


More than 17,000 Wisconsin students signed up before that program’s first deadline in September. The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. donated $40 million in November to help the program.


John and Tashia Morgridge are 1955 University of Wisconsin graduates. John Morgridge graduated from the School of Business, and Tashia Morgridge graduated from the School of Education.


The UW-W’s Miller noted that the Morgridges are inviting others to contribute to the scholarship fund.


“I think there will be a lot more people who will contribute to the fund, and I think that that’s going to be critical to really helping our students,” Miller said.


Blackhawk Technical College President Eric Larson expressed hope that the donation would benefit students from Rock and Green counties. "With over 70% of BTC students receiving some form of financial assistance, this additional source of financial aid will hopefully allow many more deserving students to take advantage of the programs at BTC," Larson said. "We are extremely grateful to the Morgridges for their most generous endowment to make a difference in the lives of Wisconsin residents."


HELP APPLYING

Applications for the Morgridge scholarships as well as other financial aid will depend on family income, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, said Janesville Craig High School counselor Sharyn Sheen.


The FAFSA is a daunting hurdle for many low-income families, especially because it is only online, Sheen said.


But help is available.


The state has set times and places to help families apply, all on Feb. 10, 2008. The event is called College Goal Sunday. The 20 statewide locations include one at Beloit Turner High School, 1231 E. Inman Parkway, Beloit. For more information, go to wicollegegoalsunday.org or contact your high school’s guidance department.

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