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OHIO continues promise to improve college access


The Ohio University Board of Trustees today completed the final step in a pioneering journey toward improving higher education expense predictability by setting the tuition rates for the first cohort in the innovative new tuition and fee program, The OHIO Guarantee.

A tuition guarantee program is not a new concept, however The OHIO Guarantee is different in that the structure includes not only tuition, but also housing and dining, as well as most fees (some programs of study may have fees not included in the Guarantee). The OHIO Guarantee is designed to provide students and their families with a predictable model to use when planning for the cost of a college degree. A student’s comprehensive rate is set when they enroll in a tuition cohort as a first year student and remains level for 12 consecutive semesters.

In a presentation Thursday to the trustees’ Joint Academics/Resources Committee about The OHIO Guarantee, OHIO Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit said, “This program is incredibly unique compared to other guarantee programs. And one of the things that you see when you look across the country at those who have adopted a guarantee program is that those programs don’t include fees charged to all students like, course fees, orientation fees, and room and board, so we’re doing something that is quite unique and other people have noticed that we are doing something quite unusual.“

The resolution to set the rates for the first-year class of 2015-16, as well as set rates for continuing OHIO students, comes earlier in the year than usual. Trustees typically vote on tuition rates in their spring meeting. The early decision allows prospective students and their parents the opportunity to plan accordingly and map out the cost of an OHIO education for the next four years. Jeff Stahlman, a high school guidance counselor from New Albany, shared feedback with trustees he’s been receiving since The OHIO Guarantee was first approved.

“The parents, I think, are very pleased with a cost containment process, something they can predict, something they can look at, it’s very positive for them,” said Stahlman. “People aren’t quite sure what to make of it just yet, I think that’s because this is new; it will take some time for people to understand how it all works. I think when they do I see it being very positive.”

The OHIO Guarantee is a landmark measure in Ohio University’s aim to improve student access to college, but as Benoit pointed out during the committee meeting, it is just one of many initiatives the University has recently launched in that vein.

A commitment to excellence and access

The OHIO Signature Award program, which is in its first full year of implementation, is one such example of efforts to help make the cost of a college degree affordable. The program began in fall 2014 and consists of awards designed to support outstanding first-year students. Approximately $2.1 million new dollars in aid were committed to the program, which is made up of scholarships and grants designed to provide access and recognize student academic achievements and contributions from the first-year class that began in fall 2014. The OHIO Signature Award program replaces the Gateway Award program, which will continue to be awarded to continuing students until it is phased out completely.

Benoit reported to trustees during Thursday’s committee meeting that the new Signature Awards have already shown great results, with many setting records, including but not limited to:

  • An increase in in-state and out-of-state students under the aid program
  • An increase in the number of multi-cultural students
  • Growth in first generation student enrollment (thanks in part to a new Appalachian Student Award)
  • An expansion in the awarding of need-based aid (primarily for first generation, Appalachian and in-state students)
  • Growth in the average amount of financial aid for both in and out of state students

The program has been highly successful, said Benoit, at offering the specialized kinds of aid packages that targeted students (first generation, Appalachian, multi-cultural) with need to come to Ohio University.  This approach has allowed us to meet students where they are and is not a one-size-fits-all award program that is often the case.

“When you look at the number of first generation students coming from this region, that says that we’re doing something very positive in terms of the nature of affordability for those students who traditionally might not have been able to afford a college education,” remarked Board of Trustees Chair David Brightbill.

Benoit shared with trustees that 91 percent of first time, full time freshmen demonstrating need received a need-based scholarship or grant from Ohio University. The University’s commitment to students who demonstrate need is also apparent on a state-wide scale. In a recent list created by the Project on Student Debt of the average indebtedness for students who borrow at all of the large public institutions in Ohio, Ohio University was ranked fourth lowest and below the state average.

Pledging to support continuing OHIO students

Also new in 2014 was a program designed to aid in college affordability for the neediest OHIO students. The Gateway Assist program awarded more than $130,700 to 844 students to cover the tuition increase of $156 for the 2014-15 academic year. Trustees endorsed the expansion of the program to include a new Signature Assist Program. Under this program:

  • All continuing students who met and still maintain eligibility criteria to receive the Gateway Assist award last year (681 total) will receive it again this year with the additional tuition increase for the 2015-16 school year included.
  • A new Signature Assist Program will be created for OHIO’s current neediest first-year students who are under the Signature Program equal to the tuition increase for the 2015-16 school year. More than 630 students are expected to benefit from this program as of now.

By continuing these programs and adding to the population aided by the assist awards, Benoit told trustees, tuition will be held constant for approximately 1,300 OHIO students.

Ohio University’s commitment to aiding students in the endeavor to earn a college education is evident on a larger scale as well. Benoit shared with trustees that in 2013-14, Ohio University awarded approximately $429 million in aid through all sources (federal, state, institutional, and student provided) to all students at all campuses. Of that number, over $170 million was in the form of grants, scholarships and fee waivers with approximately $43 million through centrally awarded scholarships and grant programs, like the Signature Award program.