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The University of Central Arkansas has launched a tuition-reduction initiative to ensure that all in-state freshmen whose families earn less than $100,000 can graduate debt-free. The program will take effect starting next fall. 

The program, called UCA Commitment, will not be funded by the Arkansas state government but through gains from an impressive capital fundraising campaign, which UCA ended nearly a year early after quickly exceeding the $100 million goal. 

“We are proud to continue finding new ways to eliminate financial barriers and increase our students’ capacity to succeed,” UCA president Houston Davis said at a ceremony last week.

Other institutions have similar tuition-reduction arrangements that are not limited by geography. Princeton University students with household income below $100,000 don’t pay tuition, room or board, and Stanford University offers the same to students from households earning less than $150,000. Duke University announced in June that it would offer free tuition to students from North and South Carolina with family incomes below $150,000.

But UCA, a regional public university in Conway, Ark., is not often mentioned in the same sentence as those highly selective private institutions. It has a much smaller endowment and donor network than Duke, for instance. It also has a much larger student body—over 11,000 in 2022—a larger percentage of whom would be likely to qualify for the university’s tuition-reduction program.

The program does not promise free tuition, but John Michaels, public relations director for the marketing and enrollment service provider EAB—which worked with UCA on its recent capital campaign—said it would “effectively cover all tuition and fees” for qualifying students.

“My understanding is that a project of this scope is unheard-of for an open-access institution that enrolls as many students as UCA,” Michaels wrote in an email.

The plan most similar to UCA’s may be that of the City University of New York, a multicampus system with a long history of free or heavily discounted tuition that also caters largely to low-income, minority students. Still, CUNY’s program is funded by the state, as opposed to UCA’s donor-fueled initiative.