In 1950, an eager new college student could pack her bags and set off for UW-Madison, paying an in-state tuition of just $120. Since then, the cost of college nationwide has increased at three times the normal rate of inflation, creating a towering financial barrier for many potential students, some of whom have stopped applying altogether.
In efforts to solve the problem, UW-Madison implemented the Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which is now active for the 2018 semester. The Promise guarantees full coverage of tuition and fees for Wisconsin residents who have an Adjusted Gross Income of $56,000 or less.
All applications to UW-Madison are need-blind, so a student’s financial information has no bearing on whether or not they are accepted to the university.
Bucky’s Promise will not pay for housing, food, or other expenses — though there are other grant and loan options to help cover those costs. Recipients will not be exempt from the new meal plan that sparked student protest last year.
Simplicity is the key to Bucky’s Promise, according to UW-Madison’s Strategic Communications Specialist Carrie Springer.
“One of our goals is to clearly inform students in this income bracket that UW-Madison is a real possibility for them,” Springer said.
Despite the clarity of the new program, there are still unique nuances to Bucky’s Promise.
For example, Bucky’s Promise is a “last-dollar” program, meaning it is the last form of aid applied to a student’s tuition. Essentially, a student could still receive federal grants, like a Pell Grant or other aid if they qualify for them, and the Promise would then cover whatever amount is left over.
Incoming freshman and transfer students must complete their FAFSA forms (which determine Adjusted Gross Income) by the Dec. 1 deadline in order to be eligible. They must maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher to stay in the program for all four years.
Eligibility for Bucky’s Promise is determined solely by a family or student’s AGI, which does not include assets, such as property.
There is no cap on the number of students who will receive aid through Bucky’s Promise, according to Karla Weber, the communication manager for UW-Madison’s Office of Financial Aid.
“We have guaranteed funding for Bucky’s Promise for incoming students (both freshman and transfer),” Weber said. “We project that we will spend $6,725 per BTP recipient, [after taking into account other grants].”
This translates to an expected budget of about 3.3 million each year. Funding does not come from state tax dollars, but is paid for through private gifts and other institutional sources.
Promise programs are becoming a common way for universities to grapple with students’ inability to afford tuition. Six Big Ten schools offer aid options similar to UW-Madison, as do schools across the U.S.
More students will pay for their tuition through scholarships than last year because of Bucky’s Promise, according to Weber. A larger number of students with an AGI of $56,000 or less are expected to apply as well.
Though families and students will still need to finance a fair amount of their education, Bucky’s Promise is meant to alleviate a lot of the burden.
“We want Wisconsin families to know that paying tuition shouldn’t be a barrier when choosing to apply to and attend UW-Madison,” said Weber.