Edison State offering free tuition for 2021 high school grads

Edison State Community College in Piqua
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Edison State Community College in Piqua

Edison State Community College in Piqua announced it will waive tuition for qualifying 2021 high school graduates, for both online and in-person classes, all the way through completion of a certificate or associate’s degree.

The waiver is part of “an all-out effort” from Edison State to minimize the disruption of COVID-19 on a student’s college career, according to Edison State President Doreen Larson.

“We view it as an investment for long-term enrollment,” Larson told this news outlet Thursday. “The idea that we could incentivize students to not hesitate, to make a plan ... with Edison State, a no-risk type of situation, that to us we see as very, very important.”

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State and national data have shown that college applications at all schools and financial aid applications are both down this spring. The Ohio Department of Higher Education listed Edison State with 4,203 students in fall 2020, its third straight year with an increase.

Larson said enrollment level for new-from-high-school students for fall 2020 was 398, up from 266 the year before, and 255 in 2018. The college anticipates 8 percent growth for summer enrollment and 5 percent for fall, she said.

With campuses in Piqua, Greenville, Eaton and Troy, Edison State offers associates degrees in more than 40 academic programs along with dozens of career certificates requiring fewer credit hours. They focus on career pathways in business, engineering and manufacturing, health sciences, information technology, and social and public services.

School officials said the 100 percent tuition waiver is available to all graduating high school seniors in the school’s service area (Miami, Preble, Darke and Shelby counties), including homeschool students in that area. It’s also available to graduates whose high school has a College Credit Plus partnership with Edison State.

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To participate, students must fill out the FAFSA financial aid form and accept any grants or scholarships they are awarded. After application, students must enroll at Edison State in the year immediately after their graduation and stay enrolled for the fall and spring semesters.

If they meet those steps, the waiver will cover remaining costs. Edison documents say “the waiver review will continue until degree completion or the completion of 70 credit hours.”

According to the school’s website, a full-time student currently pays about $2,500 per semester for 15 credit hours for tuition and base-level fees (general, technical, activity and career service fees). The waiver would cover all of that.

Students would be responsible only for the cost of textbooks, any course-specific lab/material fees, and a few smaller fees, such as online and web-flex course fees of $13 per credit hour.

State school dollars are determined via a formula where half of the college operating budget comes from the State Share of Instruction — the amount of students who complete courses, degrees and certificates — and the other half from tuition and fees.

Larson said that the college will recoup part of its investment once students complete their courses and their degrees. Because it’s a last-dollar program, students need to complete a FAFSA and apply any financial aid that they would qualify for from the federal government and then also apply any scholarships or anything else they qualify for.

“That’s all done first and then Edison State fills the balance,” Larson said.

Full tuition and fees for attending Edison State is $2,000 a term, so “if someone gets a Lion’s Club scholarship for $2,500, they have a full term paid for,” she said.

Edison State trustees voted in November to provide the tuition waiver, setting aside in the budget for next year an outlay of $500,000, which will be recouped via the performance funding modules.

“We figured that was a fairly high estimate, but we wanted to make sure that we had enough dollars set aside so that we could fully fund the program,” she said.

Edison State is unusual in that it’s in a “very fiscally strong position,” Larson said, noting 12% growth last fall and 6% in the spring.

“We are high performers, so we saw a $700,000 increase in our state share of instruction and we launched three new programs, so we are in a position where we can set aside substantial dollars and invest in the program,” she said.

Sinclair College does not offer a free tuition program, but in the last year the downtown Dayton-based school awarded over $5 million in emergency funding to students.

“We also provide over $3 million in scholarship funding per year,” according to Catherine Peterson of Sinclair College. “(Altogether), 2,600 Sinclair students currently attend at no cost.”

The median cost of tuition and books for all Sinclair students, after grants and scholarships are applied, is around $900 per year, she said.

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