By Becky Killian / Editor
More than 200 current Union College freshmen could get a free final semester of college if they meet certain requirements set by a new program.
Those freshmen who started in the fall recently learned about President Marcia Hawkins’ offer, which aims to boost the college’s retention numbers. As part of the announcement, Hawkins dubbed the 2012-13 freshman class the “Inaugural Class.”
The tuition-free semester comes with requirements of both students and the Barbourville college, according to Missy Reid, the college’s director of communications.
In order to qualify for the full tuition waiver, students must graduate in four years while remaining full-time students throughout those eight semesters, participate in at least one extra-curricular activity, attend all Inaugural Class events, serve at least 75 hours of community service, and maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average.
Students whose GPAs fall below the B-plus standard will have tuition paid on a sliding scale. Those with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.49 will have 75 percent of their tuition paid while those with GPAs between 2.5 and 2.9 will have 50 percent of their tuition waived.
In order to help the students complete their degrees in four years, Reid said the college will have to provide students with a well-defined four-year graduation plan. The college will make adjustments to ensure students have the opportunity to achieve that goal, including adjusting class scheduling.
While Union College’s new student recruitment numbers have steadily risen for several years, retention has lagged and Reid said it is currently 50 percent.
While low student retention isn’t unique to Union College, Reid said it indicates a problem the college has been trying to identify. Factors contributing to the problem could be a perception by students that they can’t complete a degree in four years and that it is a financial burden. Students may also turn away from a liberal arts education thinking they have a better shot at a paying job after graduation with other degrees.
“Of the 208 incoming freshmen, we would be excited for 50 to graduate,” Reid said. “This would raise our retention rate by 24 percent.”
Per-semester tuition at the college is currently $10,445, Reid said. When the freshman graduate in 2016, tuition, which is roughly projected to increase about 5 percent a year, could be about $11,500.
Although Hawkins has said she would fundraise to help offset the cost of the tuition waivers, Steve Hoskins, the college’s vice president for business and financial services, said each of the students in the program will help finance the award during his or her first three years of college.
“As long as our admissions team continues to bring new students to Union College, we can fund our current programming and fund the tuition-free semester with revenue generated by student success,” Hawkins said.