Some qualify for free tuition

Courtney Blanchard

Increasing tuition is one of the biggest headaches students and parents suffer from during college.

This fall, however, marks the second year the University has offered the Founders Opportunity Program, which covers all tuition and fees with grants and scholarships for certain low-income students.

University Vice Provost and Dean Craig Swan said the award might encourage high school students to pick college preparatory classes rather than an easy curriculum on the assumption that they can’t afford college.

“As important to us as this year’s graduates are this year’s eighth- and ninth-graders,” he said.

Fall 2007’s eligible first-years, sophomores and transfer students will receive the award. By 2009, the program will be completely phased in and will benefit more than 4,500 students, according to the program’s Web site.

The University automatically considers incoming students for the Founders scholarship when they apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

To qualify, the student must be a Minnesota resident and qualify for Pell Grants, as determined by FAFSA.

Chemistry sophomore Luther Lampert received the scholarship last year – the first year it was offered. He said the award gave him an incentive to go to the University.

Lampert applied to a number of different colleges, he said, and intended to go where he could take out the least amount of loans. The Founders scholarship gave the University an edge over other schools.

“For me, it helped make the decision to go to the ‘U’ a lot easier,” he said.

Nearly 2,000 students will receive the award this fall, according to Peter Zetterberg, a senior analyst at the University who worked on designing the program.

“For most students, the total amount will be more than required tuition and fees,” he said.

While most news reports describe the award as available

to students whose families make less than $50,000 per year, Zetterberg said that’s only a rough guideline. If a student is awarded a Pell Grant, he or she should be able to receive the Founders scholarship, he said.

One goal of the award is to encourage students to graduate in four years. More than 1,400 students eligible for Pell Grants could not receive the Founders scholarship in 2006 because they were in their fifth or sixth year, according to a report by the University.

The funds for the scholarships are split almost evenly between Pell Grants, Minnesota state grants, and public and private funds raised by the University, Zetterberg said.

The program will cost about $22.8 million in 2009 when the University will have awarded the scholarship to students in each class, according to the University report.

University President Bob Bruininks said in a news release that it is money well spent.

“(It) is a commitment to keep the doors of this University and the unique education it offers open to talented students from all walks of life,” he said.