Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 22, 2021

Ohio State Plans To Make Degree Debt-Free For Its 50,000 Undergraduates; The First Cohort Is 125 Students In Fall 2022

Scarlet & Gray Advantage:

Ohio State Scarlet & GrayThe Ohio State University is creating the Scarlet & Gray Advantage program with a bold goal: to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degree, debt-free. This program, which will be brought to scale over the next decade, will empower Buckeyes to control their own financial futures and prepare for success after graduation. To achieve this ambitious and meaningful goal for our Buckeyes, we welcome support from generous donors and friends who will help turn students’ dreams into realities and inspire others to do the same.

A matching program like no other
Ohio State will raise at least $800 million over the next decade to expand undergraduate scholarships.

To kick off this effort, the university and lead donors have created a matching program that will double up to $50 million in private donations (of $100,000 or more) that establish new endowments or support existing ones for scholarships. The university will also provide grant assistance.

Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio State U. Unveils a Plan for All Students to Graduate Debt-Free:

Instead of offering students federal direct loans as part of their financial-aid packages, the university will use a combination of grants, internships, and opportunities to assist with research. ...

Several dozen colleges across the country also promise a debt-free degree, but most are selective private universities that hold large endowments and enroll far fewer students, especially those from low- and middle-income families. The handful of large public universities that promise no-loan degrees for some undergraduates restrict those offers to low-income students to limit the expense of the program.

Ohio State’s program, called the Scarlet & Gray Advantage, will not be linked to the income of participants, so many middle-class families should also benefit. And unlike many other programs, Ohio State’s plan is meant to cover the full cost of attendance, including books, travel, and daily expenses, not just tuition and fees. ...

In describing the plan, the university takes pains to point out that this will not be “free” college: Families and students will, in many cases, be expected to contribute some of their own money to the college costs. Some of that money will come from the “expected family contribution,” as defined by a federal formula when students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA. Students who work on campus or serve as interns will still have to apply those amounts to their university bills.

The challenges of scaling up such an effort are many, including raising nearly a billion dollars and arranging thousands of jobs for students every year. But the payoffs are also enormous, said Laura W. Perna, vice provost for faculty and a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania. The plan’s broad design would make it easier for both low- and middle-income students to get a college education at Ohio State. ...

While Johnson has set a lofty goal, the program will begin in the fall of 2022 with a modest pilot serving 125 students from low- and middle-income families. The pilot will allow the university to study how the program works and avoid any unintended consequences, said Melissa L. Gilliam, executive vice president and provost at Ohio State. ...

The long-run challenges of the program, however, are immense. For it to reach all undergraduates within a decade, the Buckeyes will have to raise at least $800 million, including the $300 million officials expect it will cost to run the program in the short term. Officials at Ohio State have developed a detailed plan to bring the program to scale, Johnson said. That document was not made available to The Chronicle.

Veronica Meinhard, Johnson’s wife, who was a senior development official at both the University of Florida and the University of Maryland at College Park, will also play a key role in the fund-raising effort. Meinhard will not be compensated for her role.

Ohio State will also have to help arrange thousands of high-quality work experiences for students every year. A good portion of the jobs will come from doubling the number of research assistants on campus — from 2,000 to 4,000 positions annually. While some of them may be paid from a researcher’s grant money, said Gilliam, some could also be paid by the university from donations.

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