College, tuition-free

Photo by blueathena7.

At Berea College in the Kentucky Appalachians, students don’t pay tuition. At all. They’re supported, instead, by working on campus or at the College-owned hotel, and by Berea’s $1.1 billion endowment. The New York Times says that the model is attracting interest from other schools in the era of exploding tuition costs:

… the proportion of low-income undergraduates at the nation’s wealthiest colleges has been declining, as measured by the percentage receiving federal Pell Grants, for families with income under about $40,000. At most top colleges, only 8 to 15 percent of students receive Pell grants.

At Berea, more than three-quarters of the students receive Pell grants.

According to the Times article, Berea’s model comes at the cost of high selectivity (only 22 percent of applicants were accepted this year), and faculty salaries. Nevertheless, Berea is an effective reminder to other American universities that the point of higher education should be to help students improve their lives. And it’s hard to do that if you don’t make a real effort to provide access to lower-income students.