New in-state University of Wisconsin-Madison students from low-to-moderate income families will get free tuition and fees for four years under a new program, university officials announced Thursday.
The initiative, dubbed "Bucky's Tuition Promise," guarantees free tuition and no fees for eight semesters for incoming freshmen and four semesters for transfer students who come from homes making no more than $56,000 annually. The program is set to begin this fall.
Such programs are gaining traction at universities across the country as schools try to recruit students in the face of rising tuition costs. Six other Big Ten schools, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue, offer a similar pledge.
In-state tuition and fees at UW-Madison now are $10,533 a year. Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a news release that some high school students aren't applying to UW-Madison because they feel it's too expensive and UW officials want to shatter that perception.
"Many low- and middle-income families in Wisconsin simply don't know whether they can afford to come to UW-Madison," Blank said as she announced the pledge during a UW System regents meeting Thursday. "Indeed, if they just read the popular press about student debt and sky-rocketing tuition their assumption will be that they can't. We want to make it very clear to low- and moderate-income families in Wisconsin that we're going to do everything we can to make this an affordable school."
The regents gave her two rounds of applause.
UW officials anticipate more than 800 students in each new incoming class of freshmen and transfer students will take advantage of the pledge. They estimate the plan will cost about $825,000 per year. By the time four classes of students join the initiative it will cost about $3.3 million annually.
The school plans to cover those expenses using private gifts. No state tax dollars will be used, according to the news release, and participants will still be allowed to pursue other forms of financial aid such as grants, scholarships and loans. Money from the free tuition program would make up the balance of the student's costs.
Courtney Morrison, a spokeswoman for Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison's student government arm, said the group supports any action to make college more affordable, especially for low-income and marginalized students.
"ASM applauds this action, and encourages the University (to) continue to strive to make efforts for accessibility," Morrison said in an email to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile Thursday, the regents finance committee approved increasing nonresident and graduate tuition at three schools.
Nonresident undergraduate tuition at UW-Eau Claire would increase by $355 to $15,636. Nonresident undergraduate tuition for the materials science and engineering program would increase by $391 to $17,107. Tuition for nonresident graduate students at UW-Eau Claire would increase $430 to $17,621.
Tuition for nonresident students in UW-Milwaukee's business school would increase $539 to $27,490.
Nonresident graduate tuition at UW-Stout would increase by $296 to $15,088. Nonresident graduate students who pay Minnesota tuition rates under Wisconsin's reciprocity agreement with that state would have to pay $157 more, bringing their bill to $8,024. Nonresident grad students under the Midwest Student Exchange Program, in which schools agree to charge students no more than 150 percent of the in-state rate, would see their tuition go up by $166 to $10,471.
The full board was expected to sign off on the increases Friday.