BALTIMORE — Becker Alrub already knows he's going to pay for college by himself. But when the high school senior heard the University of Baltimorewas offering to pay tuition costs for a final semester, he decided he didn't need to apply anywhere else.
"It solidified the fact that I'm going to go there," said Alrub, 18, of Glen Arm, Md. "If I get a free semester, that's a big deal to me. This definitely motivated me more, not just to finish, but do well. If I'm doing well, why wouldn't I finish in four years?"
The university's Finish4Free program, unveiled last month, offers to pay the final semester tuition costs — as long as students earn that degree in four years. The perk is available only for this fall's crop of matriculating freshman, which includes Alrub, who's already been accepted into the class of 2018, said university spokesman Chris Hart.
"This is, in my view, a no-brainer. Nobody else in the country is doing this," said Bob Bogomolny, president of the University of Baltimore since 2002. "Coming out with less spent and less owed is an important contribution to our students. So if you can pass your courses so you're entitled to graduate, we think you're entitled to this tuition break."
To get the free tuition, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete full-time coursework for 120 credits in four years, or eight semesters. There are no other criteria or restrictions. Current students and transfers are not eligible. University officials said they expect an incoming freshman class of about 300 students.
In-state tuition for full-time University of Baltimore students enrolling in the fall 2014 semester is $3,086. Out-of-state tuition is $8,275. Bogomolny said tuition typically increases by about 3% each year. Even if 10% of this freshman class participates in Finish4Free, it's going to cost the school at least $100,000 in tuition revenue.
If I get a free semester, that's a big deal to me. This definitely motivated me more, not just to finish, but do well.
"And we can certainly absorb that kind of an expenditure," Bogomolny said. "Not only that, but we will know very quickly what the energy behind this program is, and how many students are actually opting in. We'll have two-plus years to plan."
According to National Center for Education Statistics, 59% of students who started college in 2005 took six years to get their degree. The six-year graduation rates were 57% at public schools and 65% at private schools.
Other colleges have instituted similar programs to encourage students to finish in four years, though they're more restrictive than the University of Baltimore's initiative.
• Temple University in Philadelphia gives $4,000 a year to 500 needy students for their "Fly in 4" program. They have to agree to criteria such as advancing annually in class standing and meeting with academic advisers each semester. Temple will pay tuition costs if students fulfill their end of the deal but still can't graduate on time, according to the program website.
• In New York, University at Buffalo's "Finish in 4" pledge asks students to concentrate on their studies, meet with advisers, and limit the hours working a job. If they hold up their end, and still can't graduate in four years, the school will pay tuition and fees for any coursework needed to complete their degree. A full year of in-state tuition and fees runs about $8,400, and $20,400 for out-of-state students.
• Union College in Barbourville, Ky., will pay for the final semester of a four-year degree, but only for full-time students who remain in good academic standing, participate in at least one club or organization, and complete 75 or more hours of community service. It's a sliding scale, and a student can get 50% to 75% paid if they falter in some requirements.
In Baltimore, Bogomolny said he hopes Finish4Free will become a permanent part of the University of Baltimore.
"Those of us in higher education are about helping students develop and do the best they can with their lives in the world," he said. "If that takes a little more hand holding, we should do that, because in the long run, everybody benefits, including the university."