YELLOW SPRINGS — Antioch College’s offer for free tuition has drawn national attention and enough interest in one day to temporarily crash the school’s website.
The newly independent college expects to have about 2,500 completed applications for next year’s class of 75 by the time the Feb. 15 deadline to apply hits. All those granted admission will get free tuition.
But all the publicity has spread some misconceptions about what the college is trying to achieve, said President Mark Roosevelt.
“It’s a little bit more complicated than just free tuition,” Roosevelt said.
Antioch’s Horace Mann Fellowships are aimed at drawing students who will commit to helping shape the college, which reopened in 2011 after closing in 2008 amid financial troubles.
“It really is a fellowship,” Roosevelt said. “The conditions for receiving it are not only academic capacity, but dedication to see it through.”
The competitive award pays the $26,500 annual tuition in full for four years, for a total value of $106,000 per student. Eligible students can also get aid for room and board, which was $8,600 this year.
Students accepted into the first four classes will be responsible for giving feedback to Antioch as the private liberal arts college rebuilds and seeks accreditation. The college, which was founded in 1852, is now separate from the multicampus Antioch University.
Because the school is not accredited, students are not eligible for federal financial aid.
“This period of time for the college, in between our start up and when we get our accreditation back, is a time of real reinvention,” Roosevelt said. “We are looking for a really spectacular, outstanding group of students to help us do it.
“We’re asking students to be partners in the re-creation of the college,” he said. “The chance of getting that kind of student body are greatly enhanced through the fellowship.”
The first class of 35 students began in October 2011. The students also received the full-tuition scholarships.
Roosevelt said the fellowships were made possible by changes in the college’s financial circumstances, including major gains in its endowment, which grew more than 106.7 percent to reach $51.7 million, mostly due to a $35 million payout from the sale of YSI Inc.
California native Rachael Smith, a member of the first class, said she has a huge sense of security knowing she’ll graduate without student loan debt for tuition.
“It’s just amazing how people are graduating from college with not many career prospects and owing so much money already,” she said. “I know college students who graduate and work most of their adults lives paying off that debt.
“Knowing I won’t have that burden is a huge blessing,” she said.
Smith said there are challenges to being the first students.
“People who come here are very lucky, but they should also be prepared to be hard workers,” Smith said.
As a newly independent college, Antioch must earn accreditation, and the school is currently in a multi-year process with the Higher Learning Commission, said spokeswoman Jennifer Jolls. Antioch cannot earn accreditation until after its first class graduates, meaning the soonest it could happen is 2016, she said.
The college currently has provisional authorization from the Ohio Board of Regents to grant Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, according to its website, antiochcollege.org.
Now, Roosevelt said, Antioch officials are preparing to enter a busy time. Prospective students have until Feb. 22 to complete their applications and Antioch must notify its accepted students by mid-March.
“I’m anxious about giving each application the respect it deserves,” he said.