EAGLE RIVER - Choosing a college can be a challenge for high school students. It's a big decision that will impact the beginning of their futures. A group of state lawmakers are hoping that choosing the right college means staying right here in Wisconsin, and they've created a bill that provides a financial incentive to do that.
Northland Pines Senior Hadley Kruse wants to work in law one day.
This year she walks the halls of high school, but in September she'll be somewhere far from home, beginning her journey towards that career.
"Next year I'll be attending Rice University in Houston, Texas, and I'm hoping to study political science," said Kruse.
Kruse is at the top of her class at Northland Pines, plays three varsity sports, and holds leadership roles in other extracurricular activities.
She is just one of many high achieving students who decide to go out of state for college rather than a school in the UW System.
"I looked in state, I looked at UW Madison and after touring and looking closer I decided to go out of state and try something new," said Kruse.
The opportunities, and oftentimes the scholarship packages from prestigious private schools, draw high achieving students elsewhere.
That's something a group of Wisconsin lawmakers want to change.
"Currently UW System has zero money available for merit based scholarships for our in-state students," said Rep. Tyler August, (R) Lake Geneva.
Rep. August is a cosponsor of a bill that would create $5,000 merit-based scholarships for high achieving Wisconsin high school students who attend a university in in the UW System.
The hope is if a UW school can compete with the financial aid packages of out of state schools, more students will want to stay in state, and ultimately stay here.
"Studies show that if a student goes away to college their odds of returning to the state go way down," said Rep. August.
If they stay in the state, that would bring talent to Wisconsin's future workforce. That benefit is in addition to reducing sky-high levels of student debt.
"I think for some of the students who are more budget conscious it's going to be a game changer," said Northland Pines High School Counselor Kelly Wranosky.
Wranosky has been a school counselor at Northland Pines for 18 years. The main factors that influence college decisions are things like school size, available majors, and of course, cost.
"I see kids coming out of school with $60,000 worth of debt and it makes me cringe thinking that's how they're starting out their life," said Wranosky.
Cassie Gauthier is at the top of her class along with Kruse, but she decided to stay in state and go to UW Madison to study neuroscience. Gauthier was looking at another public university out of state, but ultimately found that the cost outweighed the benefits of leaving Wisconsin.
"[There are] not many differences, both have really good academics, the cost is definitely one of the things I decided," said Gauthier.
Ultimately, Kruse doesn't know if an additional scholarship would have kept her in state, but she knows it would have been a factor.
"For a lot of kids, even me, financial aid was a huge factor in where they went to school and obviously UW Madison is one of the top colleges in the county, so really if there is any form of extra aid or extra help I think that would help a lot of students," said Kruse.
Rep. August hopes the bill will hit the floor in February and if all goes well, students could even be getting scholarships as soon as the fall. The money comes from the Board of Commissions of Public Lands.