Public school graduates from the state's largest cities have a shot at a free education at the University of Toledo.
As long as they show some financial need and keep their grades at a B average or higher, UT will make sure that 100 percent of the students' tuition and fees is covered.
"We're a public university and we feel it makes tremendous sense to work with the public school system," said Kevin Kucera, UT's associate vice president for enrollment services. "We feel this is a great opportunity to be a leader."
Called the University of Toledo Guarantee, the program is open to graduates of Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo public schools.
The student has to have at least a 3.0 GPA in high school and show some financial need by qualifying for a Pell Grant when filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA.
Even if a student gets a lower Pell Grant of $750 and no state grants, UT will pick up the remaining $7,177 needed to meet the $7,927 price tag for a school year's tuition and fees.
For Diamonds Hicks, 16, a junior at Rogers High School, it's making it a bit easier to choose which college to attend.
She was thinking UT or Bowling Green State University to study physical therapy after graduation. But UT for free? Yeah, she'll take that.
"I can save up for other things," she said shortly after hearing a presentation from a UT admissions officer about the program. "UT is looking pretty good right now, and I know my mom is going to be for it."
There are programs similar to UT's.
One at Owens Community College was recently expanded to allow all TPS graduates to attend the college with no out-of-pocket expense.
It's paid for by the Owens Foundation.
UT's program is unique in that it branches out to other cities and UT is footing the bill itself.
For 2008-09, about 60 students from the urban areas outside Toledo who had a 3.0 GPA or higher enrolled at UT - compared to the higher number of 260 who were admitted, but decided to go elsewhere.
UT is hoping to attract 80 more students from Ohio's big cities through the program, which could cost $682,000, Mr. Kucera said.
"It's an expensive program, but it can more than pay for itself if it recruits more students," he said.
Recent years of increased enrollment and projected increases with this program will offset the costs, even without taking into account state subsidies and room and board payments, Mr. Kucera said.
Freshmen who live outside a 50-mile radius of UT are required to live on campus their freshman year, which is about $8,000 in room and board costs. So for Toledoans, a UT degree can be totally free, and for those in the other urban areas, it cuts the total price in half.
Students retain the scholarship for four years as long as they maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete 30 credit hours annually.
TPS Superintendent John Foley said the program "is a deal I wish I would have had."
And while it will help high school juniors and seniors now planning what to do after graduation, it also will give younger students something to strive for.
Research shows students who don't do well as young as fourth grade have a higher chance of dropping out, so reaching them early and taking away financial concerns of college could have a huge impact on student success, Mr. Foley said.
"They can start thinking of what they would dream to be instead of thinking, I have to do what my parents did in life or go right to work," he said.
And a good number of TPS students should be able to take advantage of the program if they work hard.
While it's not a direct correlation as to which TPS students would get a Pell Grant, about 70 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.
The guarantee is meant to be more than access, but also a promoter of success, which is why the 3.0 GPA requirement was added, based on community input.
"Some made it very clear to challenge these students," said Larry Burns, UT's vice president for external affairs.
"They are bright and challenge them to achieve, we heard, and that we need to set the standards high and encourage the students."
One of those community members was Toledo Board of Education member Bob Vasquez, who is active in the Latino community.
"We want to make sure that they not only enter college, but they graduate," he said, adding that everyone is enthusiastic about the offering.
"This is so exciting, I mean it's just great," Mr. Vasquez said. "What this says to me is that if you are a Toledo Public Schools student here in the city of Toledo, you can go to college. You can."
Other urban districts also are excited about the possibility.
The University of Cincinnati has a similar program with Cincinnati Public Schools that is successful, so the UT Guarantee could be another good opportunity, Cincinnati Interim Superintendent Mary Ronan said.
"I know these programs work," she said. "And college has gotten so expensive, and in this economy it's hard for parents to afford this, especially over four or five years."
Diane Ging, supervisor of higher education partnerships for Columbus City Schools, said its high school graduates tend to stay close by, but the UT program could change that.
"Toledo is not, for some reason, an area our students have strongly in their thoughts when they're thinking about college," she said.
"Our obligation now is to make sure the parents and the students know about it."
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