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Madison Area Technical College's welcome center at the flagship Truax campus.

Madison Area Technical College is developing a privately-funded program that would pay for two years of qualifying students’ tuition and fees, school officials said.

It will be called the Madison Promise.

“How do we develop a program where no district student has finances as a barrier to attending?” MATC president Jack Daniels asked at a forum in South Madison last week. “We’re going to make it happen by spring 2017,” he added.

Academic criteria to qualify to the program have not yet been developed, Keith Cornille, senior vice president of student development and success, said in a follow-up interview.

MATC, also called Madison College, serves Dane and 11 nearby counties as part of the publicly supported Wisconsin Technical College System.

Financial screening for the Madison Promise will start with eligibility for the federal Pell grant program for low-income students, Cornille said. Next will be calculating the gap to meet MATC expenses after a family contribution is figured in, he said.

College officials also are trying to project future need by examining eligibility for the federal free lunch program in K-12 school districts in communities served by MATC, Cornille said.

Funds raised through the Madison College Foundation would be used to meet students’ unmet tuition and fee costs.

Daniels put an estimated price tag on the first year of the program at $125,000 to $130,000.

The program is expected to be similar to one planned at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

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The “MATC Promise” program is scheduled to launch in fall, 2016, in Milwaukee.

Nearly 3,000 applicants have met the first requirement for that program, proving either residence or attendance at a high school in the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s service area, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Cornille said the Madison Promise was inspired by the Tennessee Promise, a pioneering statewide free college program that assisted more than 16,000 students this fall in its second year of operation.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has stepped up his efforts to make tuition free at community colleges across the country. He unveiled an independent coalition of community college leaders, educators, politicians, foundations and businesses this fall that will work to spread the word about existing free two-year college models.

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