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Lakeland University today announced a new program to tackle the student debt issue and lead some graduates to enter the workforce with money in the bank.

Beginning the fall of 2020, the Lakeland Promise will provide qualified Wisconsin students an opportunity to attend Lakeland tuition/fees free for four years, up to three years for transfer students.

Lakeland is Wisconsin's first private college to offer a free tuition promise program for qualified students.

Coupled with Lakeland's award-winning Cooperative Education program, which allows students to work part- and full-time jobs at co-op partner companies, LU students can earn money in their co-op jobs to pay for other school-related costs and bank whatever is left.

The Lakeland Promise will cover tuition and fees through the Wisconsin State Grant, Federal Pell Grant and other Lakeland funding. Wages from co-op jobs, along with federal loans and outside scholarships, can be used for textbooks, room and board and other expenses.

"With so much national debate rightly focused on addressing the student debt crisis, at Lakeland we're flipping the script on the cost of getting a college education," said Lakeland President David Black. "Imagine graduating in four years with no debt and some money in the bank to get your life started. The Lakeland Promise offers that pathway to motivated students.

"The Lakeland Promise provides students with access to a Lakeland education that is tuition free, while also providing ways for students to earn wages and credits at our world-class employer partners in the region."

The Lakeland Promise is for in-state dependent students whose household adjusted gross income is less than $40,000 or independent students with an adjusted gross income of less than $15,000. Students whose expected family contribution (EFC), as determined by the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), is less than $1,700 will also qualify, regardless of adjusted household income. Students will need an unweighted high school or transfer grade point average of 2.75 or higher.

Students must meet federal student eligibility criteria as defined by the FAFSA and be in good standing with Wisconsin state agencies for state grant eligibility.

Additional details are available at Lakeland.edu/promise.

To continue in the program, students must remain in academic and financial aid good standing, while continuously enrolled at LU. Students will not be penalized for earning income levels through their co-op jobs that would negatively affect their financial aid package.

Lakeland was recently honored by U.S. News & World Report on its annual rankings lists of Best Colleges among the top schools in the Midwest region in advancing social mobility for its students. Lakeland tied for 33rd among Top Performers on Social Mobility among regional universities in the Midwest and was third best in Wisconsin.

"Higher education has to get serious about addressing student debt," Black said. "We have accepted that challenge, and innovative programs like cooperative education and the Lakeland Promise are ways we can use our resources to provide access to students who want to improve their lives by earning a college education."

Lakeland is in the third year of infusing cooperative education across all its academic majors. In its first two years, more than 400 students have participated in co-op, and more than 78 percent of freshmen in this fall's class enrolled at Lakeland through co-op.

"One of the great misconceptions is that a private, liberal arts education is too expensive and out of reach," Black said. "Lakeland has been offering a private education at a public school cost for years. Students and parents are responding to our innovative use of co-op to earn a degree with little or no debt while earning professional work experience.

"By adding the Lakeland Promise to co-op, we will further expand access to an LU bachelor's degree for more Wisconsin students."

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