Pell grant-eligible Wisconsin students could have college costs covered for 4 years at UW-Madison

Bucky's Pell Pathway will cover housing, meals, books and other expenses in addition to tuition and fees

Two graduates in caps and gowns sit on the Abraham Lincoln statue at Bascom Hill at UW-Madison to take photos.
Sam Lopez, left, and Daniel Jablonski, right, take graduation photos as their semester nears its end Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The two have already lined up jobs in their respective fields of education and atmospheric and oceanic science. Angela Major/WPR

University of Wisconsin-Madison students who qualify for Pell grants are eligible to have tuition covered for four years under a new program announced by the chancellor Thursday.

Bucky’s Pell Pathway promises to cover nearly all college costs including tuition, student fees, room and board, and meals for four years for Wisconsin freshman who are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

More than 800 students are expected to be eligible for the program, according to the university. Pell grants are federally-funded aid provided to students in low-income households.

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UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin announce the new initiative on Thursday during her first address to the UW System Board of Regents in Madison.

“This is an important additional step in creating opportunities and access here at UW Madison, working to ensure that the amazing resources of our university offer transformative possibilities to talented students from all across our state, regardless of their means,” Mnookin said.

Transfer students can get two years of tuition covered through the Bucky’s Pell Pathway, so long as they meet the same criteria as the freshmen students.

Mnookin’s hope is that qualifying students will be able to participate in the full slate of opportunities available to UW-Madison students, including study abroad and summer term courses.

Mnookin made clear during her announcement that no state tax dollars will go toward the initiative.

“We are funding it through a variety of institutional, private and external sources,” Mnookin said. “And I want to call out and very much appreciate the generosity of a number of our alumni who have given specifically to support students with high financial need and whom I know will continue to support this critical goal.”

The Pell Pathway program follows the five-year-old program, Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which covers tuition and fees for Wisconsin students who qualify. Previously, students would be eligible if their households’ gross income was at or less than $60,000. As of Thursday, that amount has been raised to $65,000.

About 5,000 students have taken advantage of Bucky’s Tuition Promise since its creation, according to the university. The first cohort of students receiving those funds graduated last fall.

In August, UW System President Jay Rothman announced a similar tuition waiver program for new freshman attending the state’s 12 other universities, called the Wisconsin Tuition Promise. It promises to waive remaining costs not covered by financial aid born by Wisconsin students from families with annual incomes below $62,000. Rothman is seeking an additional $24.5 million in funding from the Wisconsin Legislature to help pay for the tuition promise in the UW System’s budget request.

Former UW System President Tommy Thompson also sought additional funding from state lawmakers in 2020 for the tuition promise and other initiatives. That request was rejected by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Rich Kremer and Deneen Smith contributed to this story.