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UW-Madison To Offer Free Tuition For Families Making $56K Or Less A Year

'Bucky's Tuition Promise' Expected To Cover 800 Incoming Freshman Annually

Bascom Hall (UW-Madison)
Joshua Mayer (CC BY-SA)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has unveiled a plan to offer free tuition to students whose families make $56,000 or less a year.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Thursday her goal is to ensure anyone who is admitted to the state’s flagship university can afford to be a Badger.

Bucky’s Tuition Promise” is a UW-Madison pledge to cover four years of tuition and segregated fees for new, incoming freshman who come from households in Wisconsin with an annual adjusted gross income that is at or below the state’s median family income of $56,000. Transfer students from other Wisconsin campuses who meet the criteria would be able to have two years of tuition and segregated fees covered by the university.

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Blank announced the pledge Thursday at the UW System Board of Regents meeting in Madison.

She said the pledge begins this fall and is expected to cover around 800 students in each new freshman class, according to UW-Madison. The university estimates the program will cost around $825,000 a year. By 2022, the annual cost to the university is expected to reach to $3.3 million.

Rebecca Blank. Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Bucky’s Tuition Promise will not be funded through tax dollars but by private donations and “other institutional resources,” according to a UW-Madison press release.

Blank said the tuition program is part of an ongoing effort to keep UW-Madison affordable to students and their families.

“We know there’s a perception that UW–Madison is financially out of reach for some of our Wisconsin families, and we know this keeps some high school students in our state from applying here,” Blank said Thursday. “We don’t want this to be the case any longer. Going forward, we are removing the cost of tuition as a barrier for these families.”

Eligibility for the free tuition pledge is determined automatically and is based on a families adjusted gross income reported on federal tax returns. No separate application is required to receive the funding.

“Bucky’s Tuition Promise will provide parents with clarity around cost much earlier in the college-selection process,” said Derek Kindle, director of the UW–Madison Office of Student Financial Aid. “For the first time ever, we are saying to these Wisconsin families, in the clearest and most concise way possible, that if your student applies here and is accepted, we will cover the cost of tuition and fees — plain and simple.”

Students who receive free tuition under the program would still qualify for financial aid, grants and scholarships to cover living expenses.

Faculty Compensation

In her remarks to the regents Thursday, Blank also alluded to issues of faculty pay at UW-Madison.

“A great university will not stay that way very long if we aren’t constantly finding new ways to attract great students, to provide them with an excellent education and to retain the faculty who teach our students and who also conduct our world class research,” she said.

Compared to other public university peer institutions, Blank said UW-Madison faculty make notably less. And while she said a 4-percent increase for university employees in the most recent state budget is helpful, “This is not a problem you get out of in any one year. It’s going to take a number of years of investment, and it’s going to take a series of state decisions that say we are going to raise pay on a regular basis as our peers do.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:28 p.m., Feb. 8, 2018.