BALTIMORE—There’s nothing like free money to incentivize hitting the books—at least, that’s what the University of Baltimore hopes.
To encourage incoming undergraduate freshmen to graduate within four years, university officials are promising to pay their final semester’s tuition, which is likely to be about $3,300 for in-state students and $9,000 for out-of-state students.
The new program—named Finish4Free—would be the first of its kind in the country, according to university President Robert L. Bogomolny, who unveiled the pledge Tuesday.
Officials hope Finish4Free will help the university boost its four-year graduation rate, which has remained low since the university resumed undergraduate education in 2007 after years as a professional graduate school.
Just 18 percent of freshmen in the 2007 class graduated within four years, slightly below the national average of 19.8 percent at schools with similar academic profiles, according to Peter Toran, vice president of university advancement and communications. After six years, 36 percent of the 2007 cohort had graduated, Toran said.
Bogomolny said both rates are “not very impressive” and should be higher.
“Anything we can do to help our students be successful is of great importance to us,” Bogomolny said.
Current students are not eligible for the program; it’s only open to incoming freshmen, starting this fall. About 280 freshmen enrolled last fall, compared to 143 students in 2007.
Bogomolny said he wouldn’t be surprised if the university enrolled 20 percent more freshmen this fall than last, partly due to the launch of Finish4Free. Most of them, though, probably won’t end up graduating within four years, he said.
“We think this will impact a modest number (of students), but even if it’s a small number, it will reduce the debt load for those students and help them get into the workforce sooner,” Bogomolny said. “We know participation won’t increase to 100 percent, but we do think it will increase.”
And what if the entire freshman class does graduate within four years?
“We’d be ecstatic, and prepared to pay,” Bogomolny said.
The other primary goal of the program is to reduce the financial pressures on students, particularly because many of the university’s students are older—the average undergraduate there is 28 years old—or are struggling to hold down jobs while taking classes.
In fall 2014, in-state tuition is $3,086; out-of-state students pay $8,275 per semester.
But by spring 2018—which would be the final semester for freshmen who graduate within four years—those numbers will likely have jumped to $3,300 and $9,000, respectively, because of an expected 3 percent annual increase in tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities over the next several years, Toran said.
The university has not yet figured out exactly where the money will come from, but officials will monitor the students’ progress as they advance from year to year. As a member of the University System of Maryland, the University of Baltimore gets state funding every year.
Both in-state and out-of-state enrollees who are on track to graduate within four years will still be responsible for paying student fees during their final semester, which are currently $923 per semester. Students will also be required to maintain a full-time schedule (12 credits or more) and at least a 2.5 GPA throughout their undergraduate coursework.