This Tech School Is Offering a Year of Free Tuition — With an Unusual Twist

Young college students in a classroom
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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a new trend arise that involves free tuition at various colleges across the United States.

It’s a trend we’ve been loving, as we’re excited to see higher education become more accessible to more people, especially with the ever-rising cost of college and the ever-growing trillion-dollar student loan epidemic.

But while one year of free tuition helps with recruitment and getting students started at these colleges, the new problem these schools are facing is retention. Plenty of students will take advantage of these free first year (or two) of tuition offers, but many end up not staying around to finish their degrees.

So, when columnist Matt Reed, who writes Inside Higher Ed’s “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” suggested making the second year of college free instead of the first, a technical college in Ohio was all ears.

BOGO Tuition at Ohio’s Marion Technical College

In an effort to encourage students to stick around and see their college education through, Marion Technical College is offering students a year of free tuition after they successfully complete one year as a full-time student.

That’s right — it’s buy one, get one on college tuition.

The school was trying to figure out a way to not only attract students, but to retain them beyond that enticing first free year.

By making the second year free and including the stipulation that students must first complete a self-paid year of full-time classes (meaning at least 30 hours of coursework over two semesters), the school hopes to not only bring in students who are excited to learn, but also give them incentive to stick around and excel.

The old model, which included a free first year, Reed noted in his original proposal, “imposes a significant cost increase just as students are entering the home stretch,” making it more likely for them to walk away.

The new model would make it an easier decision to see the degree through because students would have already invested their own money in their education during the first year.

This method, Reed writes, “answers the cultural desire for ‘skin in the game’ by having students work for it.”

Marion Tech’s president, Ryan McCall, had been searching for a way to make the free tuition promise he had been seeing pop up around the country work for his own students. McCall says he had been looking into ways to make summer coursework free for some students and also trying to figure out how to encourage them to continue.

After reading Reed’s article on Inside Higher Ed, McCall posed the question: “Do we stick with the summer idea or do we try to go further and expand it to the idea of providing students with a second year free after they’ve proven they want to do the work and be here?”

The school decided to go further and run with Reed’s idea.

How “Second Year Free” Tuition Will Work

BOGO tuition at Marion Tech, a system now known as the “Get to Next Scholars” Program, will provide incoming students with a second year of up to 35 credit hours for free.

To earn the year of free tuition, students must complete one year of full-time work — at least 30 hours of college-level courses — with at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Students will also receive a $100 stipend toward books each semester for both years, along with access to a dedicated adviser who will help them choose their education path.

In the end, the scholarship program’s goal is to increase Marion Tech’s completion rate.

Amy Adams, Marion Tech’s vice president of planning and advancement, says incoming students in the program will be supported every step of the way in an effort to ensure they feel financially and emotionally secure in their education.

“We want to make sure they have the right support group, so we’re looking at these students as a cohort coming in,” Adams says. “They’ll be assigned an academic adviser so they’re all on the right pathways and taking the appropriate classes, not falling behind, not feeling overwhelmed, and meeting as a group.”

Since the Get to Next Scholars program is still in the pilot stage, it will be a little while before the school sees exactly how the BOGO tuition is affecting retention and completion rates.

“Primarily,” McCall says, “this is about helping students get their degree in a shorter time frame and for less of the cost.”

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.