Aug. 04--Schools are responding to worry among students and their families about the soaring cost of a college education in response to a combined national student loan debt that eclipsed $1 trillion two years ago.
Some colleges plan to lock tuition and subsidy rates for four years to help low-income students who agree to graduate on time. Others will match student aid to keep pace with tuition increases.
In Ohio, multiyear tuition guarantees will happen this fall at Lorraine and Cuyahoga community colleges, where incoming students will pay the same amount if they complete associate degrees in three years.
Next fall, Ohio University, a public research university in Athens, will offer a four-year lock on tuition and room and board.
"Every family is concerned about the cost of education, and we at the Board of Regents are working to get students through in less time and at less cost. Hopefully, (the tuition guarantee) is a motivation to get through," said Jeff Robinson, a spokesman for the state agency that oversees higher education policy and finance.
Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors.com, tracks college costs and is skeptical about such promises. He said guarantees could lead to significant differences in tuition from one class to the next, because colleges must spread annual budget increases across one class instead of four.
"Except at the University of Dayton (a private Ohio school that started its program in the fall), the guaranteed tuition does not lock in the net price. Financial aid can change from one year to the next. So the actual costs to the family are not as predictable," Kantro-witz said.
Although it isn't guaranteeing tuition rates, Temple University in Philadelphia is starting Flyin4 this fall. The program guarantees that incoming students at the state-related research school will be able to complete a degree in four years, or Temple will pay for additional coursework.
Temple President Neil Theobald said the program will help boost graduation rates and curb costs. About 43 percent of Temple students graduate in four years.
"If a Temple student graduates in four years, they'll have an average of $20,000 in debt. Most of that is low-interest, good debt from federal loans. But at six years, student debt is about $36,000 and that $16,000 in additional debt is credit card or bank debt, and the terms are not nearly as good," Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said.
Betzner said nearly 75 percent of the incoming freshman class signed a Flyin4 pact. It requires them to schedule regular meetings with academic advisers, schedule classes during Temple's priority scheduling period, notify an adviser if a required class is unavailable, and complete at least 30 credits a year.
Temple urges students to limit outside employment to fewer than 20 hours a week and will provide $4,000 a year in grants to students who meet financial need requirements and agree to Flyin4 terms.
Schools across the country are looking for ways to increase four-year graduation rates, which stood at 39 percent nationally in 2010.
Temple is following the lead of the University of Minnesota, the University at Buffalo and Indiana University, which adopted similar initiatives.
Penn State University President Eric Barron, who took office in May, pitched similar initiatives to trustees last month. A Penn State Working Group is reviewing options, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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