Puget Sound offers financial aid to Tacoma public high school graduates

A new financial aid initiative known as the Tacoma Public Schools Commitment will offer local students a chance to attend the University of Puget Sound at a lower cost.

From fall 2015 onward, the University is committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all graduates of Tacoma public high schools who receive an offer of admission.

Students must be enrolled for three consecutive years with the exception of military students. Transfer and home schooled students are not eligible.

The University will meet this financial need by making up the difference between what the student can afford to pay and the cost of attendance, according to Vice President for Enrollment Jenny Rickard. The full cost of attendance is currently $57,908, which includes tuition, room and board and other expenses such as books.

“When students and families fill out the FAFSA form, which is the federal financial aid form, with that information it calculates what is called an Expected Family Contribution…it calculates what a family’s ability to pay is,” Rickard said. “So, let’s say a family’s expected family contribution is $10,000 according to the FAFSA form then Puget Sound will make up the difference between the full cost of attendance and that $10,000.”

A family’s income, assets, size, number of children in college and other factors determine the expected family contribution. This difference will be made up through federal loans, work-study programs and university grants that do not have to be repaid by the student.

This program is being implemented in part to address growing concerns about higher education not being accessible or affordable for many students.

“Nationally, a big concern is access to college and affordability. We’ve been having conversations institutionally about how we can provide greater access to students who may not be able to afford to attend. We thought the first place to do that would be at home and Tacoma is our home,” Rickard said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.6 percent of people living in Tacoma are below the poverty line, which is roughly five percentage points higher than Washington as a whole. Additionally, according to University President Ronald Thomas, large portions of students attending Tacoma public schools would be first-generation college goers. Because of these realities and the price tag of attendance, local students often view attending Puget Sound as an impossibility.

“Rightly or wrongly, accurately and inaccurately, Puget Sound is sometimes considered a college in the misty clouds upon the hill as opposed to something that is a real option for our local community,” Thomas said.

Local students, such as first-year student Jeannette Eibe, confirm this perception amongst local high school students.

“A lot of people from my high school didn’t apply because it was known as an expensive school,” Eibe said. “When they did apply and the scholarships didn’t cover as much as they had hoped for they didn’t come. They went somewhere that they could afford.”

The Tacoma Public Schools Commitment hopes to change that.

“I think there’s an opportunity, given what we know about the Tacoma public schools, to provide some opportunities to qualified students who might not be thinking about Puget Sound, to take away the financial concern as an obstacle to them,” Thomas said.

The program stems from an ongoing commitment by the University to Tacoma and its students.

“The initiative grows out of a number of things. It grows out of our mission to be good citizens and responsible citizens in our own community. It grows out of our values to be good neighbors. It grows out of our commitment to social justice as well,” Thomas said.

These values have been demonstrated through previous programs with Tacoma students. These programs include free access programs, classes and camps.

“We have a lot of collaborative relationships with Tacoma public schools—tutoring programs, summer academic challenges, and various kinds of recruitment initiatives,” Thomas said. “This seemed like a logical next step for us to make as we continue to develop our connections with our neighbors.”

In January 2014, University of Puget Sound announced that it would meet the full demonstrated financial need for students that participated in the access programs.

“[Tacoma Public Schools Commitment] is really an expansion of that to all students that might attend a Tacoma public school,” Rickard said.

The University is encouraging more Tacoma students to attend Puget Sound in conjunction with greater efforts by the Tacoma school district.

This effort, known as “Graduate Tacoma,” is attempting to create a college-going culture amongst Tacoma students.

“This initiative is also a way of cooperating with that project that is happening in the community and playing our part,” Thomas said.

With all these programs in place, Puget Sound is working toward making the local public aware of the opportunities available.

“We are working actively to make sure that students and families in the school district are aware of this opportunity. We’ll be visiting the high schools and sharing the information with the students and reaching out to Tacoma public schools directly,” Rickard said.

The University is reaching out through local college counselors and student leaders in addition to school visits. In May, there will be a Tacoma public schools’ day on campus to allow students to see the opportunities available to them.

“We’re really excited to see how many students are interested as a result…and to get more students from Tacoma on campus,” Rickard said.

Not only is Puget Sound striving to get students interested in applying and visiting, but it also hopes that these students are able to experience the opportunities a liberal arts education offers.

“Our mission as a liberal arts college is to enable all of our students to reach their full potential as human beings. I think there is a tremendous amount of potential locally that could take full advantage of that opportunity here at Puget Sound,” Thomas said. “I’m such a strong believer in the kind of education we offer at University of Puget Sound…I’ve been so impressed by what our graduates have gone on to do…I’d really like to see our local community realize some of those opportunities.”