College affordability: most students cringe at the term.
In reality, affordability is one of the most significant barriers students encounter when deciding where to attend college after high school, or whether to attend at all.
In New Hampshire – ranked as the seventh most expensive state or district to attend college – the average in-state tuition totaled $17,675 during the 2016-17 academic year, which is $4,089 more expensive than the country’s average, according to collegecalc.org.
However, the financial burden just got a little easier for Granite Staters.
Keene State College has introduced the Granite Guarantee, which is a pledge to incoming first-year students from the Granite State to cover the cost of tuition for four years.
Those who qualify must be New Hampshire residents entering their first year of college in fall of 2018 and eligible for the federal Pell Grant. As long as incoming students remain enrolled full time, 12 credits minimum, maintain a 2.0 GPA and remain Pell-eligible, the pledge will remain in place.
In other words, if between federal, state and college scholarship funds, the cost of tuition is not met, KSC will add additional funds to the student’s financial aid package, Interim Director of Financial Aid Susan Howard explained. The funds do not apply to room and board, however.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Kemal Atkins said conversations surrounding the Granite Guarantee have been occurring not only at the institutional level, but the system level as well. The residential institutions within the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) have all made this commitment to their incoming students.
“It’s not only an institutional commitment, it’s a system commitment, a commitment by the USNH system through our institutions to try and make college education more accessible and affordable for New Hampshire residents in particular,” Atkins said.
The University of New Hampshire rolled out the Granite Guarantee this past year, Howard said, and the enrollment numbers for their New Hampshire residents increased by twice as many. Howard said KSC is anticipating about 20-40 additional students next fall.
Plymouth State University plans to roll out their Granite Guarantee in fall of 2018, Atkins said.
In a conversation with the New Hampshire Center for College Planning, Howard said she was informed that KSC wasn’t serving the neediest Granite Staters as well as it could be. If Keene is the best fit school for an incoming student, Howard said the Granite Guarantee is a way to make sure they can get here.
“The purpose of it is to make Keene State possible for the neediest New Hampshire students, and in looking at our university system, if a student gets [the Granite Guarantee] at UNH but they’d rather be at Keene State, we don’t want that to be a barrier. We want them to be able to choose Keene State because it’s a better fit for them.”
When Interim President of KSC Dr. Melinda Treadwell first arrived on campus this past summer, Howard said she started a scholarship challenge fund, which would be used to cover the costs associated with the Granite Guarantee.
Based on data from this year’s first-year class, the estimated cost for first year of the Granite Guarantee for next year’s incoming class is about $100,000.
“I think we’re hoping that there will be interest on the part of donors to make this happen and think it’s important enough that they’re going to help us with that,” Howard said.
In terms of marketing this information to current New Hampshire high school students, Director of Admissions Peg Richmond said her team has been sending emails to high school guidance counselors, high school students, calling high schools and sending posters to be hung at schools as well.
“We are really trying to get the word out because I believe it could really make a significant difference for these students in terms of affordability. Access and affordability are really important at Keene State,” Richmond said.
Likewise, Atkins said the benefit of the Granite Guarantee is increasing affordability for New Hampshire students in need.
“In public higher education, Keene State in particular, we are committed to making education accessible and affordable, so that’s doing what we can to remove as many barriers to higher education for students across populations, and so this is one way we address more students who have more financial need. That’s the benefit,” Atkins said.
In terms of scholarships for current students, Atkins said this year, KSC will be marketing the endowed scholarships better by simplifying and streamlining the process. In an email sent to KSC students on Jan. 16, Atkins stated there will be more funds available to current students through the President’s Challenge Scholarships, and the application period to apply for aid will open in February.
While some current KSC students like the concept of the Granite Guarantee, some find it frustrating that they weren’t able to benefit from it.
KSC senior Bethany Cashman said, “I think it’s awesome for the incoming students that are able to have it, but it’s not really fair to those of us who are graduating. I had to work nearly full time during school on top of taking out a lot of loans just to afford it.”
Additionally she said the Expected Family Contribution on the FAFSA isn’t always accurate.
“The FAFSA has an “expected family contribution,” which is really not realistic for many students, as the parents aren’t able to provide much financial help.”
Overall, the Granite Guarantee may give New Hampshire students an opportunity they never thought they’d have, allowing them to attend a liberal arts, four-year college and receive a degree in fall of 2018.
“We’re hoping that by making this effort, more people will take a closer look at Keene State,” Atkins said.
“We know that once they take a closer look and get on campus and engage with our talented faculty and our students in particular, it could be a game-changer for them with regard to them saying, ‘This is where I want to be for the next four years,’” Atkins said.
Interim President of KSC Dr. Melinda Treadwell was unavailable for comment.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org