Lower-income Connecticut residents admitted to UConn as undergraduates will receive free tuition starting with the fall 2020 entering class, President Thomas C. Katsouleas announced Friday as he was inaugurated as UConn’s 16th president.
The tuition initiative, known as the Connecticut Commitment, will be an important component of the university’s mission to provide high quality, affordable education for in-state students to help keep them in the state to build their careers after graduation.
For a family in Connecticut with a household income of $50,000 or below annually, their child will be able to come to UConn tuition-free under the plan.
“It is critical for U.S. higher education institutions to work to change both the perception and reality of what they deliver,” Katsouleas said Friday. “This is critical for the future prosperity of Connecticut. To keep our brightest, most talented and most diverse human capital in Connecticut, we must continue to offer as many of them as possible a high quality and affordable education in their state.”
UConn expects thousands of students within the first four years to be eligible to be considered for the program, including many first-generation college students, members of underrepresented minority groups, and other academically talented young adults who might have hesitated to apply to UConn due to their family’s finances.
An aggressive fund-raising campaign is being launched to support the program, Katsouleas added Friday, which if successful, could allow the university to raise the income threshold at some point in future years above the current $50,000 level.
The Connecticut Commitment award will be available for admitted UConn undergraduate freshmen students starting in fall 2020 at all campuses and in all majors, and will also be open to new transfer students. It will make up the difference between the cost of tuition and other aid, such as federal Pell Grants and need-based and merit-based awards, to ensure all tuition expenses are covered.
Many of the students who would qualify for the award also historically have come to UConn with privately awarded scholarships or other aid that must be used for tuition.
To avoid inadvertently penalizing or disadvantaging them, UConn will apply the Connecticut Commitment award they’ve earned to cover any remaining unpaid tuition amounts, and whatever is left over can be applied to their fees, room and board, books, and related educational costs as long as the students have sufficient financial need as defined by FAFSA.
“Earning a UConn degree will be more affordable than ever for our students who need assistance the most, because Connecticut Commitment is being implemented as a layer on top of our existing aid program,” said Nathan Fuerst, UConn vice president for enrollment planning and management.
“Our goal goes beyond affordability,” he said. “This initiative will also provide transparency and better predictability for parents and prospective students as they go through the admissions and financial aid processes, which run many months.”
UConn graduates’ average student loan indebtedness is lower than state and national averages, and the University promotes affordability through strong financial aid and by helping students graduate on time with supportive academic advising and the wide availability of required courses.
The Connecticut Commitment program will be supported by the fund-raising campaign and by allocating other University resources to supplement the financial aid budget. It will not reduce or otherwise affect other students’ financial aid packages.
Connecticut Commitment’s benefits for qualifying students could be substantial, with the initiative combining various aid programs to cover the entirety of their tuition, which is $13,798 at the in-state level for the current academic year.
Eligible students may receive the Connecticut Commitment grant for a maximum of four years for incoming freshmen who remain in good academic standing and whose families continue to meet the income qualifications; and for two years for incoming transfer students, with the same conditions applied. They must be Connecticut residents who are seeking their first bachelor’s degree and are enrolled full time, and whose family total income reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is $50,000 or less.
All admitted Connecticut resident students who are enrolling as freshmen or transfer students will automatically be considered for the Connecticut Commitment institutional grant award if they fill out the FAFSA form by the Feb. 15 annual deadline.
The award is also available to more than one sibling at a time, as long as the siblings and their family meet the qualifications.
Those who do not qualify for the Connecticut Commitment program will still have the opportunity to be considered for other aid, such as federal Pell Grants, and/or need-based and merit-based aid that the state and university funds itself.
“We are sending a loud message to Connecticut students: Not only do we want you at UConn, we want to make your degree affordable,” Fuerst said.
Katsouleas said in his inaugural address Friday that in addition to focusing on affordability, he wants UConn to invest in excellence by doubling research over the next seven to 10 years.
The university will also increase its hiring of tenure-track faculty, and work to attract and retain what Katsouleas called “the most distinguished and diverse faculty to teach students – faculty who can impart the wisdom and inspiration of the creators of new knowledge at a time when increasingly complex new societal challenges require it for their solution.”
Katsouleas, a leading plasma scientist and engineer, came to UConn in August from his former position as provost of the University of Virginia. He previously was dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and a professor of electrical and computer engineering there, and has also been a professor and researcher at UCLA and the University of Southern California.