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Four and Out: Juniata Guarantees Students will Graduate in Four Years or Less

(Posted December 11, 2007)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Taking a \"money where your mouth is\" approach to convincing families that a private education is affordable, a liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania is guaranteeing incoming freshmen a bachelor\'s degree in four years or the fifth year is free. Administrators at Juniata College believe the move is unprecedented. And they\'re committed to illustrating the long-standing claim among private colleges that huge state universities are ultimately more expensive than privates. Juniata, backed by data showing that most students at large public institutions take five years or more to graduate, rolled out its \"four-year guarantee\" this fall. It will apply to all incoming freshmen entering Juniata in fall 2008, but is specifically aimed at students in the 12 counties contiguous to the largely blue-collar community of Huntingdon, where Juniata is located. \"There\'s a perception in our own back yard that Juniata is too expensive,\" says Michelle Bartol, Juniata\'s dean of enrollment. That\'s because, with a \"sticker price\" of $36,000 (including room and board), Juniata has to lure in-state students away from the behemoth Penn State, with an annual tuition at around $13,000. Armed with data about Juniata\'s four-year graduation rate, comparisons of its financial aid packages versus its public counterparts, and the \"lost earnings\" associated with two extra years of college, Juniata launched its new marketing initiative: \"A great education, within reach.\" \"Over the past decade, we\'ve lost too many students in our own back yard,\" says Bartol. \"We\'re hoping to regain our core market in the 12 contiguous counties, which equals about 25 or 30 students in an incoming class. But this is as much about the college\'s mission and commitment to local responsibility.\" Juniata, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, boasts a close-knit campus community of roughly 1,500 students and advisers who work closely with students to ensure they choose courses that will fulfill requirements for their majors (called POEs, or \"Programs of Emphasis\" at Juniata). From the class of 2006, 96 percent of students graduated in four years or less; typically, Juniata has about a 92 percent four-year graduation rate. \"We\'re so confident in our advising that we\'re guaranteeing our students they\'ll finish in four years,\" says Vince Frank, director of student financial planning at Juniata. \"We\'re making into policy what\'s already happening.\" Recruiters still stress the college\'s sense of community, \"but now we\'re talking dollars and cents, too,\" says Bartol. \"We\'re helping students in the local market understand this is within reach. The student affected by this will be the one who is on the margin, who looks at Juniata and initially thinks it costs too much, but now will realize it stacks up well against Penn State and the other publics.\" The new campaign plays up Juniata\'s four-year graduation rate as compared with figures from the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania showing that only 37 percent of students at \"state-related\" schools graduate in four years or less. At \"state\" schools, only 27 percent graduate in four years or less. (Penn State is \"state-related,\" meaning it is supported by state funding but is otherwise independent of the Pennsylvania Legislature\'s control.) Minus room and board, Juniata\'s tuition is $28,920; factoring in average institutional aid of $13,786 per year, Juniata calculates a bachelor\'s degree to cost $60,536 over four years. The new campaign compares a six year tuition of $77,064 at the Pennsylvania State University, $65,256 at the University of Pittsburgh; and $41,088 at Shippensburg University. When the value of the two years of \"earnings lost\" because of additional years of schooling required for graduation, the total costs in tuition and lost wages are $120,264, $107,656 and $89,088 respectively for the public and semi-public universities. The calculations reflect that Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh don\'t report an average amount for the institutional aid provided to undergraduates and Shippensburg, a public university about 60 miles southeast of Juniata, reports averaging $1,500 per student per year in financial aid. The four-year guarantee comes with a laundry list of conditions: It only applies to domestic freshmen, not international or transfer students; it doesn\'t include room and board; and it requires students to maintain \"qualitative academic progress\" and complete an average of 30 credit hours per year. Bartol says the college could attract 25 to 30 more students per year with the \"four-year guarantee,\" and expects no more than five or six would potentially qualify for free tuition, providing they\'re not able to get the courses they need to fulfill POE requirements in four years.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.