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UW-Madison officials say the university will cover tuition and fee costs for Wisconsin students from families with incomes below the state median, a move they say shows all state residents that an education at the state’s flagship campus is within reach.

The plan, dubbed “Bucky’s Tuition Promise,” was unveiled at a University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting Thursday. It will begin in the fall for incoming freshman and transfer students.

It pledges to cover four year’s tuition and certain fees for all in-state students who are accepted to the university and come from families with a yearly household income of $56,000 or less. University officials say that amount is roughly the median family income in Wisconsin.

UW-Madison officials stressed the plan will not trigger financial aid reductions elsewhere and is not funded with taxpayer dollars.

Rather, they said the anticipated cost — about $3 million a year when fully phased in — will be paid by private donations and other revenue sources such as licensing royalties.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, announcing the plan to Regents on Thursday, said some low- and lower-middle-income families in Wisconsin are unsure if they can afford to send their children to UW-Madison. The university wants to send a message that contradicts the notion that a high-quality university education is unaffordable, she said.

“The idea here is to simplify financial aid messages to people around the state,” Blank said.

The eligibility criteria is limited to one line from the federal income tax return: adjusted gross income. If that amount on a family’s return is $56,000 or less, the family qualifies.

UW-Madison officials said the plan will keep the university competitive with some other Big Ten schools with similar programs. Derek Kindle, director of the UW–Madison Office of Student Financial Aid, said six of the 14 Big Ten schools already have such programs in place.

Blank credited the university’s financial aid office for crafting the plan and pitching it to university leaders. It’s expected to aid at least 800 students in each new incoming class of freshmen and transfer students.

The plan is structured as a last-dollar award, meaning it will fill the gap between any other scholarships or grants and the full cost of tuition and segregated fees, Kindle said. Segregated fees are paid by all students, including for student union access, health services, recreation and other purposes.

Other expenses such as housing and food won’t be covered by the plan, though university officials said other types of financial aid might do that.

The university’s existing financial aid program fully covers tuition and segregated fees for nearly 70 percent of students from families below the $56,000 income threshold, Kindle said. He said the new plan provides funding for the remaining 30 percent of such students who have financial gaps to fill.

Unlike similar programs at other schools, the UW-Madison plan uses only income as the qualifier, not assets. Kindle said that could be critical in an agricultural state such as Wisconsin, where many farm families have high reported assets but low incomes.

Federal financial aid programs take family assets into account when determining the amount of aid for which a student qualifies.

Blank, speaking to reporters after the Regents meeting, said the program could be a particular boon to rural parts of Wisconsin where incomes, broadly speaking, have not kept pace with large metro areas.

“It is disproportionately people in smaller towns and rural parts of the state that are going to benefit from this, because that is where incomes are somewhat lower,” Blank said.

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(18) comments


Call it what it is, education paid for by the taxpayers, not the university.


And so it begins. If college is the answer why don't college's simply finance their own product? Why do tuition & book costs have to dramatically outpace inflation? Also how about the roughly 40-50% who don't even finish college & what about the many that do graduate only to end up in a job they didn't even need a degree in or work in a field they didn't even go to school for? Bring college courses to high school students that are ready for them instead of many taking courses they really don't need only to suck tuition from them & their families for 4-6 years or more.


Bugs, your sanctimonious outrage on every article you read wears very thin. Firstly, this isn't going to cost taxpayer money. You can choose to disbelieve that, but unless you can point to real evidence otherwise, it's a lot of hot air. And even if it was, can you think of a better use of money than educating poor kids and giving them a shot at middle class jobs? You can make up silly sounding majors all you want. But the vast majority of students at Madison are majoring in the sciences, business, and education. Secondly, you don't understand how financial aid works. Families a dollar over the threshold won't suddenly be paying full tuition. And having free tuition doesn't mean that kids from poor families won't have loans to pay back. They still have to provide for room and board, books and other expenses while they are a full time student.

I feel truly sorry for whatever it is inside you that makes you feel the need to be outraged about kids getting help from private donors to educate themselves and better their lives.

Buggs Raplin

I admit I was off target on the taxpayer thing, but this is a ridiculous idea that shows the stupidity of those involved, as I point out in my subsequent comments, and others have chimed in as well. Are you implying that poor kids can't get a loan to go to college? I hadn't heard that. And, again, (I can't help myself) the absurdity of a family making just under $56,000 getting the benefit, whilst a family making just over $56,000 does not. The article says this program will be funded in part by donors. Well, isn't it a false assumption to think that these donors are always going to be donating. The value of a college education these days depends on one's major that will allow the student to find employment. I do believe there are a lot of liberal arts graduates living in their parents' basements right now because liberal arts grads are not in demand. I admit a certain amount of anger when I made the mistake of not reading the article close enough. I was thinking of gubernatorial candidate Vineout, and her plan of free college tuition for everyone. I apologize for my mistake, but this idea is basically stupid, and I wonder about the intelligence of those proposing it.


The family making $57,000 will likely still be getting some substantial financial aid. So it's not the hard dividing line you're envisioning. But as with anything, you have to draw the line somewhere. That's why you can't drink legally at 20 years and 364 days, but you can at 21.

Regardless, I disagree that the idea is "basically stupid." It's leveraging largely private funds to help students whose families are not able to help them. Sure, they can take out a $40,000 loan to pay for college. That's what they do now. But if private donors want to help them not be burdened by that debt as they're looking for jobs and starting families, why don't we let them?
Also, there is very little evidence for the statement that liberal arts grads are not in demand. Contrary to stereotype of the kid living in their parents basement, liberal arts grad unemployment is around 6-7%, which is only a couple points more than science grads, and not bad considering that recent grads don't have the kind of experience that someone later in their career might. That means that 90+% of liberal arts grads aren't "living in their parents' basement." They are fully employed for their skills in writing, research and their creativity. And their unemployment rate is half that of those who never got a college degree. While I totally agree that we should be advocating for students to also go into the skilled and technical trades, I just don't see why there is so much resistance to making college affordable. You know, like it was 30 or 40 years ago when we funded it fully. Here is some sourcing for my statistics, if you're interested:

Buggs Raplin

Please define the 'financial aid' families making over $56,000 will receive while those families under $56,000 will have their kid's tuition and fees paid by donors. Please, please, while this story is still up, what financial aid will families making over $56,000 be receiving. I didn't see anything in this story about that. Perhaps I missed it. Please enlighten me. And just what is 'leveraging private funds?" I thought the donors were just doing this out of charity. Or are they getting reductions tax-wise for their donations? I don't know. Please enlighten me. So..students whose families make under $56,000 won't be so much burdened by financial debt, but it's OK that students whose families make more than $56,000...maybe just a few thousands more..are burdened. I think, Reinhold, that we disagree on the value of a liberal arts degree. Why doesn't the Tribune go to the placement office at UW-L and find out how their graduates in liberal arts, especially in the major of 'Women and Gender Studies' are doing. Delivering pizzas? Waiting on tables at Applebees? I'm curious. The results are there, but the Tribune won't report them. There are more important issues at hand andace reporters Vian and Tighe are on them-the Big Indian, and the Hatched Baby. Now on this thing where education was fully funded 30 or 40 years ago, what do you mean by that? My parents paid for my education 1967-71, and when I went back to college in 1981-83 to earn a second degree, I paid for it. Please tell me how 'we' funded that fully.


Without the taxpayer help from the start I doubt this facility exist in its present state able to build up the cash they have on hand like they do [wink]


“It is disproportionately people in smaller towns and rural parts of the state that are going to benefit from this, because that is where incomes are somewhat lower,” Blank said.

I didnt realize Ms Blank has such a soft spot for people from small towns and farmers.

And if you believe that....

El Duderino

The article makes it sound like this will only take place in Madison. If so, why?Without entering the financial morass, I can’t help but think this will negatively impact the other UW campuses and their surrounding communities. I’d imagine property values, rentals, businesses aimed at students, campus reputation/job placement, and the academic quality of the kids coming in for “non-flagship” locations. Getting into UW-Madison for a white male will be akin to breaking into Fort Knox...


This program discriminates against the student whose family is above the threshold. They will have student loans to pay back while the Bucky Tuition promise students don’t have to struggle to pay back the loans. All these students earn a degree and should have the same opportunity to pay back a loan. The students with the loans are at a decided disadvantage for years.


Free money for those below the median income. By definition, that is one-half of the population, so it appears the UW leadership wants to commit taxpayers to free tuition for 25,000 students attending UW at any one time.

Cash is fungible; to say this cost isnt coming at taxpayer expense is a laughable claim that insults UWs audience.

Whats really disappointing is that the giveaway program has not been widely known earlier. After all the hissy fits over Walker's austerity measures it turns out UW has been giving way money by the buckets full all along.

For most, foregoing a UW degree in Social Grievances in favor of a 2 year degree in electronics will get you off to a better and more productive and happier career.


Buggs, I think a sliding scale would be appropriate. Pro-rate a tuition discount accordingly within income brackets; have academic standards to qualify. Student loans are a major burden for most grads/families. Also, an "employable" degree would serve all concerned immensely. Those Philosophy PhD's won't keep 'em out of their parent's basement upon graduation.

Buggs Raplin

Again, in my criticism...are not student loans available for most anyone wanting to attend UW-Madison? If so, why this program with its cutoff at $56,000. Hypothetically, a family with an income of $57,000 is not eligible for the free goodies, but a family whose income is $55,000 is. Is this not ridiculous. Tell me, my critic below, is this not ridiculous?


so why did they make the age of drinking 21? Why did they make the age to vote 18? Why is the age to be president 36? Why is there a cut off wage for food stamps, or homestead credit, or certain tax brackets etc? There has to be some cut off somewhere. these rules they are proposing are not set in stone. Perhaps it should be a sliding scale in the near future. But this is a start, and as in most things its not perfect. We live with boundaries every day, like it or not.

Buggs Raplin

Again and again, this is a bullsh*t thing. It obviously depends on ever-steady and ongoing donations, and that is a dubious thing. And what about parents who are just a bit over the median line, but have to pay the entire cost of their child's education, while a parent just below the median line gets their kid a free education, or at least an education at a much reduced cost. This is just a liberal bullsh*t idea representative of liberalism.


Read paragraph 4, Buggs. It states this tuition program is NOT funded by taxpayers. Period. You are out of your mind crazy with your stupid. untrue, accusatory comments. If you can proceed to read further, it is funded with private donations and licensing agreements ( royalties). Go have your sick, twisted mind checked, man. Why do you continue to make such a fool of yourself on these commentary boards? This program sounds like a great plan for students academically qualified, yet lack funds to pay the high tuition fees.

Buggs Raplin

I guess my sick twisted mind is still skeptical, because if this program is to go forward, those private donations will have to continue. And if they don't, then who'll have to pick up the tab? The taxpayers. Now, as to licensing agreements (royalties)-if they are put into this program, won't the money lost, be made up for by the taxpayer.

Buggs Raplin

This is total bullsh*t, on the backs of the taxpayers. Total bullsh*t.

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