Many students drop out of college not because they fall short academically but because they can’t pay the bill. Scholarship programs such as the one at Shoreline Community College, in Washington state, have the potential to improve completion rates by providing free tuition to high school graduates who are ready for college but are unable to afford it.
The first Shoreline Scholars will enroll in fall 2015. Their scholarships will pay full tuition for up to two years. Eligibility is based on both financial need and academic achievement, with applicants required to have a GPA of 3.5 or better. Recipients must pay for their own textbooks and for other fees, and they are required to participate in a community-service project. They can use the scholarships to earn course credits that transfer to four-year institutions or for two-year technical degree programs at Shoreline.
“We’re really excited to start off with 56 tuition-free scholarships, and we want to grow that in the years to come,” says Shoreline Community College President Cheryl Roberts.
A model for success
Roberts saw how well a similar initiative worked when she was president of Chemeketa Community College, in Salem, Oregon. She credits that scholarship program with increasing the number of high-achieving students tenfold at Chemeketa. Roberts says the community surrounding the college had a large number of poor students who studied hard and made good grades but weren’t enrolling in the college because of the financial barrier.
“We wanted to do something to reward what we call ‘high-ability, low-opportunity students,” Roberts says.
The area around Shoreline Community College has seen an income shift in recent years, according to Roberts, with an increase in the immigrant population and the number of public-school students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The philosophy behind both scholarship programs is that college success is possible in spite of such economic challenges “if you have people who believe in you and who set up programs that support you,” Roberts says.
The integrated-training approach
Shoreline Scholars is a complement to other programs aimed at boosting completion at the college, such as the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program, in which instructors pair up to teach technical skills and basic English language, reading and math skills in the same classroom. Shoreline has been a model campus for the integrated-training approach, attracting interest from colleges all over the United States, Roberts says.
Jim Hills, special assistant to the president at Shoreline, says administrators are busy working with area K–12 school partners to get the word out about the scholarship program. They have undertaken a major information campaign to prepare students for the application process. Students must apply in person at the college by April 27, 2015. Applications will be reviewed on-site to ensure they are complete; students with incomplete paperwork will receive more information and a little more time to fill the gaps, Hills says.
Roberts says local community support for the scholarship program has been tremendous, and the idea recently won the endorsement of the local daily.
“The Seattle Times editorial said every community college in Washington should take our lead, and we hope that they do,” Roberts says. “We hope that people will see the value in supporting those students who have worked really hard and who demonstrate some financial need.”
Administrators took note of the changing demographics of the college’s student population and asked what they could do to help the students be more successful, Roberts says. That was the impetus for Shoreline Scholars.
“Our college is only successful when our community succeeds,” she says. “We saw a need. We know that there is a desire for increasing the college-going culture in our community.”