Ohio State University is launching an initiative giving undergraduates the chance to graduate debt-free from a four-year degree, the school’s president announced Friday.
The initiative, called Scarlet & Gray Advantage, will begin with a small pilot in the autumn semester of 2022, with 125 low- and middle-income first-year students. Ohioans and U.S. non-residents can apply for the program.
The program will include a combination of scholarships and grants, paid internship and work opportunities, and financial contributions from the enrolled students’ families.
The university believes it’s the first large university to offer a debt-free option for a student’s total costs, including tuition and fees, housing and dining, books, travel, and daily living expenses.
“Today, about half of [Ohio State] students graduate with debt, and that debt averages $27,000,” President Kristina M. Johnson said in her investiture speech Friday.
“They make life-narrowing choices because of those loans, such as not pursuing a career they’re passionate about … not going to graduate school, not buying a house, not starting a family,” she continued. “I want all of our graduates to be free to say yes to every great opportunity that comes their way. So we are going to give every undergraduate the opportunity to graduate debt-free.”
The school president emphasized that the program is “not free college,” adding, “there will still be an expected student and family contribution.”
“But we will ask our students to contribute in ways that are career-enhancing, instead of derailing,” Johnson said.
The university will be working with employers throughout the state and country to expand its network of paid internships, to increase opportunities for students to earn money, develop work skills, and prepare for after graduation.
“[Students] will help fund their own education through paid internships and on-campus work experience that add to the momentum of their trajectories,” Johnson said.
Students who enroll in the program must also commit to graduating within four years and undergo financial literacy programs, as well as leadership and career counseling.
The Scarlet & Grey Advantage Program is estimated to cost about $100 million a year once it is fully implemented—the goal time frame is by the end of 10 years.
The university is planning a fundraising campaign with a goal of $800 million to expand undergraduate scholarships to support the program over the next decade. Of the $800 million Ohio State seeks to raise, $500 million will be in endowments.
“To help kick off this campaign and enhance the impact of early gifts, the university and lead donors are creating a $50 million pool to match the first $50 million in private donations. Donors who contribute at least $100,000 to endowed funds while the match is available will see their gifts’ impact double in size,” the university announced.
The program also includes access to federal and state grants.