Here's a novel way to encourage college freshmen to graduate: Offer them free tuition their last semester of school.
That's what Union College in Barbourville, Ky., is doing. To qualify for a tuition-free spring semester of their senior year, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA, get involved in one campus activity, and donate 75 hours of their time to community service.
Under the newly unveiled Inaugural Class program, students who meet the activity requirements but earn between a 3.0 and 3.49 will get 75 percent of their final semester's tuition paid, and those with GPAs between 2.5 and 2.9 will have their tuition reduced by 50 percent.
Providing incoming students a financial incentive to do well and finish their degrees was a Christmas gift presented to this year's freshman class by Marcia Hawkins, who began this fall as president of the 850-student liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
Union, like many colleges, is looking for ways to improve retention, which has not risen along with enrollment. Only about half of the students in a typical Union freshman class, return for a second year.
"When we can focus as much on student success as on recruiting, then we can truly say we are student-centered," Hawkins said in a statement on the Union website. "If we are truly student-centered, recruiting success will follow."
To engage students, Hawkins is also trying to interact with this year's freshmen on campus, hosting a Christmas party and attending campus events.
If the incentive program works at keeping students enrolled, Union officials say the tuition-waiver program will pay for itself. After assessing the success of the program this year, Union will consider offering the same promise to future freshman classes.