Learning how to solve big problems is at the heart of every academic pursuit. And at effective institutions of higher education, problem-solving is more than a core competency — it is an integral part of university culture, influencing everything from curriculum development to financial aid. A school that works to find solutions to big problems together, for the sake of its students, creates an environment where innovation is contagious and graduates walk away with the confidence to take on any challenge.
The big problems challenging higher education today range from skyrocketing costs of books and tuition to the widening gap between those who qualify for need-based aid and those who can pay for college out-of-pocket. The conviction that everyone should have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education drives university staff and leadership to seek out new solutions to these growing concerns.
By looking for innovative ways to help students not only succeed academically, but also graduate without crippling amounts of debt, universities can “walk their talk,” demonstrating the responsible resource management skills they work to instill in their students. Students at those type of schools gain more than a degree — they gain lifelong skills for navigating tough choices.
At Liberty University, staff and leadership take responsible resource management seriously. With nearly 100,000 students between both residential and online campuses, providing avenues to help students afford their education is a critical aspect of the university’s commitment to Training Champions for Christ.
How does it happen? Through a variety of out-of-the-box solutions, including:
The Middle America Scholarship
A 2017 Washington Post article highlighted a new trend on college campuses, the “socioeconomic ‘barbell’ — with affluent students who can pay full price or close to it on one end and poor students who receive Federal Pell Grants and max out their loan eligibility on the other end.” Students from middle-class families often fall through the gap in the middle, lacking the ability to either fully cover the cost of college or qualify for the large grants that other students receive.
As tuition rates across the country rise, the wage of the average American family can’t keep up. Even in a healthy economy, college costs are out of reach for many students whose families make too much money to qualify for need-based aid, but find the notion of paying out of pocket daunting at best and impossible at worst.
Liberty’s tuition falls below the national average and remains among the lowest of top private universities in the country. And now Liberty is the first university in the U.S. — public or private — to design a financial assistance program that places the working middle class at the forefront. This program uses the Federal Pell Grant as a guide, but takes an extra step on behalf of the student.
“If a qualifying student does not receive a full Federal Pell Grant, Liberty University is funding the difference,” said Ashley Reich, vice president of Student Financial Services. This new funding is the Middle America Scholarship.
As higher education costs continue to rise, the Middle America Scholarship will enable more students raised on working-class incomes to pursue degrees that can lead to higher-paying career opportunities. Families whose total annual income typically ranges from $35,000-$95,000 may be eligible for over $5,000 per year.
Currently, many families in that income bracket don’t qualify for the full Federal Pell Grant amount, and the Middle America Scholarship will help bridge that gap. Based on each student’s expected family contribution (EFC) from the FAFSA, ranging from $1-18,000, the scholarship will assist applicants enrolling full time in degree-seeking programs to reach the equivalent of a full Federal Pell Grant amount allowed each year.
In addition, eligible students are able to lock in the Middle America Scholarship program amount for up to four years. (Program-qualifying criteria and scholarship amounts are evaluated annually and are subject to change. The program is available to new residential undergraduate students starting college in Fall 2019.)
Tuition Freeze and Special Pricing
When it comes to innovative solutions to education, more and more people are turning from the traditional on-campus experience to education online. Many find its flexibility appealing, and online schools backed by brick and mortar campuses tend to offer the same high-quality academic experience to online students as they do to their residential counterparts.
Liberty is one of these schools and, driven by a desire to innovate financial solutions for its online student body, was recently recognized by BestColleges.com for its affordability, academic quality, and accessibility — being ranked in the top five out of 2,100 online colleges and universities.
This accolade demonstrates the high priority Liberty places on helping its students succeed, both in and out of the classroom. Not only has the school frozen its online tuition for the past three years and counting — refusing to hike prices, even in the face of inflation and pressure to conform to other online institutions — but it also has taken extra steps to support many service-oriented professionals by offering them special tuition rates.
For example, first responders — including police, fire, and EMS workers — are eligible for a 25% tuition discount on all online courses from the associate to the Ph.D. level. Teachers, or those hoping to become teachers, can work toward a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master of Education 100% online for only $415 per credit hour. Those in ministry can pursue a Doctor of Ministry or any other graduate degree within the School of Divinity for a special block rate of $2,750 (if taking 7-15 hours).
And in support of our Armed Forces, Liberty’s military rates of $250 per credit hour for undergraduate and $275 per credit hour for graduate courses are available not only to active duty service members, but also to their spouses and to military veterans.
By freezing tuition for all online students and thanking thousands in service-oriented professions on behalf of their communities through tuition breaks, Liberty is showing that students — and the impact they are making — lie at the heart of its financial decision-making.
No-cost Electronic Textbooks
While many students may find the financial resources to pay for their classes, the price of textbooks can often push their budget over the edge. Students can pay more than $800 per semester for books, depending on the courses taken. This can cause them to buy outdated versions of a book or even take fewer classes.
To combat this problem, Liberty simply removed the roadblock. All undergraduate online students now have digital books and instructional materials automatically provided to them at no cost. (Textbooks with no digital option are provided to students in hard copies at no cost.)
“Our priority is doing our best to operate in such a way that we can minimize costs for the student,” said Provost Scott Hicks. “With the high cost of education out there, the goal at Liberty is to keep costs down so that students can see that we are being good stewards of their time, energy, and effort — it’s their investment.”
Not only are the digital textbooks and resources provided at no cost, accessible anytime and on any device, but the resources themselves are an interactive learning experience that caters to a student’s learning style. Video and audio presentations, adaptive quizzes and homework assignments, and even digital flashcards are all part of an intentional effort to help students learn and engage with the material — not just pass the class.
Whether opening a new avenue for scholarships, keeping tuition prices down, or removing financial roadblocks, Liberty University is proving that innovative solutions to big problems result when dedication to student success and responsible resource management work together. And the conviction that everyone should have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education is what drives staff and leadership to continue taking on challenges like these as they Train Champions for Christ.
For more information on the Middle America Scholarship or to see if you qualify, visit Liberty.edu/MiddleAmerica.