MADISON, Wis. - For many low-income students, seeing the price of tuition stops them from applying to prestigious schools such as the University of Wisconsin Madison.
An initiative announced by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank on Thursday vows to give free tuition to more than 800 in-state students who come from families making $56,000 or less.
"It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was, like, 'I don't have to feel like a financial burden to my family if I go to college,'" said Virginia Quach, a junior at West High School.
Quach said the cost of tuition has pushed her away from certain colleges.
Although UW-Madison is one of her top choices, she knows her parents can't afford the $10,533 in tuition each year.
Quach said she has been working hard to keep her grades up and applying for scholarships, "but I was also considering going to Madison Area Technical College just because universities are so expensive."
But after the announcement of the initiative called "Bucky's Tuition Promise," Quach believes she can attend UW-Madison after graduation.
"I was kind of surprised and amazed at the opportunity because it allows people like me, low income, to have open eyes or hope that they can go to a college like UW-Madison," said fellow West High School junior Pa Dao Lor.
Lor said along with being stressed about getting a great ACT score, ending the school year with a high GPA and applying for every scholarship possible, she and her classmates are constantly worrying about how they will afford college.
"If you're coming from a family with an adjusted gross income under $56,000, your parents are probably not going to be in a position to support you much and so those students are going to be fitting the bill themselves and this basically knocks off that tuition," said Tom Kleese at OnCampus College Planning in Fitchburg.
Kleese said there is a real undermatching problem in higher education.
"Students from less affluent families, minority students, don't reach very high because they don't think they can afford better colleges," he said.
He hopes to do more pro bono work with low-income students in the Madison community who need help applying for college. He said Bucky's Tuition Promise will give students a better chance to attend a four-year university.
"They can focus on the things that matter the most; taking care of grades, test scores, extracurriculars, being the best version of themselves and not having to worry about the money piece so much," Kleese said.
He said low-income students often don't graduate on time because they are working so many hours to pay for school.
"There are going to be some kids who just never even dreamed that this would be possible or they were looking for the cheapest option out there instead of thinking about long term value. This is going to create tremendous value in their lives," Kleese said.
UW-Madison officials expect the pledge to cost about $825,000 per year beyond what the school already offers in aid.
This will be funded by private gifts instead of tax dollars.
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