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St. Norbert College

Courtesy of St. Norbert

Less than a month away from the start of the fall semester, colleges continue to announce tuition deals and discounts to ensure student retention, encourage degree completion and ward off deferrals.

This week, St. Norbert College and Pacific Lutheran University announced tuition-free semesters and yearlong programs for returning and newly admitted students.

St. Norbert, a small liberal arts college in De Pere, Wis., unveiled its Ninth-Semester-Free Promise program on Monday, which would pay tuition for eligible students to finish their degree in their ninth semester. Eligible students must have completed eight semesters of undergraduate education, at St. Norbert or elsewhere, and must be enrolled in and successfully complete at least 12 credits each semester during the 2020-21 academic year.

The program aims to encourage students to continue their education through the upcoming academic year, said St. Norbert president Brian Bruess. The college also hopes that the program will keep participating students on track to graduate in nine semesters.

“In order to maintain our commitment to a residential, liberal arts education and our strong commitment to guaranteeing that students graduate in four years, [we created] this ninth semester program so that we motivate them to be registered continuously,” Bruess said.

He hopes the program will appeal to students who may wish to have more uninterrupted time on campus for theater, athletics or study abroad opportunities. He also thinks it could ease the concerns of students who are unable to take a full course load during the 2020-21 academic year, for health, financial or other reasons.

Bruess spoke about a recent conversation he’d had with a student's family. They own a business and may need to call on the student to work in addition to her schoolwork.

“The family business is struggling to hire service staff people. So the family is worried that they can’t keep the business going,” Bruess said. “This student might need to, instead of 16 or 18 credits, take one or two fewer classes. This then gives her the assurance that ‘look, I can make that up at no cost, so I can do what’s right for my family, and I can do what’s right by me.’”

The program does not cover room and board and other fees. Participating students must submit a federal financial aid application and waive the college's four-year graduation guarantee. Applications for the program are due by Oct. 1.

Bruess said he’d received positive community feedback, but it’s too soon to tell how many students will participate in the program. He said the decision to offer the ninth semester was not a financial one, and that St. Norbert College is in good financial health and has met its enrollment targets for the fall.

“The way I look at it financially is that if a student graduates on time, that’s more important,” he said. “So if the college forgoes some tuition revenue, we’re willing to make that investment.”

Pacific Lutheran is offering students an additional tuition-free year on campus through its PLUS Year program, debuted Monday. All returning and incoming students regardless of class year will be eligible to tack on a fifth tuition-free year after their projected graduation date.

The goal of the program, according to Pacific Lutheran president Allan Belton, is to ensure that all students get four years of quality liberal arts, on-campus experiences.

“It occurred to us that we really wanted to focus on giving students the time to think through what this coming year means to them, and the ability to get in their full four years' experience,” Belton said.

Like St. Norbert’s program, Pacific Lutheran students must be enrolled in the 2020-21 academic year to be eligible for a “plus” year. During that additional year, students will be able to study abroad, participate in theater and music ensembles, and play sports if they’re eligible.

Belton isn’t worried about the financial impact of the program.

“When you think about the vast majority of the students who are going to take advantage of this opportunity, they wouldn’t have been here during that fifth year anyway, so it's effectively not really costing the university revenue,” Belton said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we have the right level of faculty resources and staff resources to support those students who stick around longer. So that’s really, from our perspective, the only dollar cost of the program.”

Pacific Lutheran’s program will not cover room and board fees. Both Pacific Lutheran and St. Norbert may bring in some additional room and board revenue from students who choose to participate in the programs.

Belton said the response from parents and students has been positive.

“We know that this is not going to be the academic year that any student imagined, so to give them time to stop and think about how they can make the most of their time here is really what we hope to do.”

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