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Antioch College recently announced the launch of a new program that expands financial aid and work opportunities at the college, including free tuition for students with the highest need. Antioch students already take part in a variety of “applied liberal arts” classes; pictured here are Leander Johnson, left, and Colby Nelson-Betz, laying the last tile in the floor of a new space in the Olive Kettering Library, designed during a three-week intensive design course led by Assistant Professor Michael Casselli this winter. The space will be a student gathering and hangout space in the library. (Submitted photo by Michael Casselli)

Antioch College Works— Increasing student aid, jobs

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For students with the highest need, Antioch College will soon be tuition-free.

A new program called Antioch College Works is expanding the college’s financial aid and enhancing student work opportunities at the college — and after graduation. Announced last month, the program will launch in the fall of 2020.

College leaders say the new program aims to fully meet the financial needs of all students admitted to Antioch and expands its nearly century-old cooperative education model, known as co-op. A new postgraduate co-op component, designed to help launch students into the working world, adds to the existing co-op model, under which students take at least three academic terms working in real-world jobs during their time at Antioch.

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In the broader picture, Antioch College Works addresses timely questions about the value and utility of a liberal arts education, according to President Tom Manley in a recent interview.

“We’re being asked to demonstrate the value of the liberal arts, and that’s what we’re committed to doing,” Manley said.

And the program is aimed at re-energizing the college’s recruitment efforts, which have fallen short of meeting enrollment goals for the last several years. This past fall, Antioch welcomed 27 new students, with two others who deferred. Total enrollment is now under 100 students.

The fall 2019 incoming class was the smallest since the college’s reopening to students in 2011. This January, an additional six students will transfer into Antioch, four of them new to the college and two returning after time away.

“We missed our enrollment target significantly,” Manley acknowledged, speaking of last fall’s enrollment. The new program was developed largely in response to that shortfall, he added.

“That triggered this deep reconsideration and thinking around enrollment strategy,” Manley said.

Geared to economic equity

Under Antioch College Works, incoming students who are eligible for federal Pell grants, which provide need-based aid to the nation’s lowest-income students, will receive full tuition coverage for all four years at Antioch, beginning next fall. Continuing students will also have their financial aid packages adjusted, according to college leaders, and most students will benefit by receiving more need-based financial aid than they currently get.

“This is really geared to economic equity,” Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Gariot Louima, who helped craft the new program, said in a recent interview.

Antioch College already works hard to cover the cost of college for students and their families, he said. Students are admitted to Antioch based on a holistic evaluation of their merit without consideration of their level of financial need, according to Louima. Only after admission does the college work with students and their families to develop a financial aid package to make Antioch affordable.

“Almost no one pays full sticker price,” Louima said of the college’s existing financial aid approach. “We try to add enough need-based aid so finances aren’t a barrier.”

Annual tuition at Antioch for the current academic year is $34,568, which represents at least two-thirds of the estimated total yearly cost of attending (including room and board and items such as books, travel and health insurance). But the college on average discounts that amount by 73%, according to Louima — meaning that students pay, on average, just a quarter of the total sticker price.

Most private liberal arts colleges heavily discount their tuition, according to Mickey McDonald, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, or GLCA, a group of 13 colleges of which Antioch is a member.

“It’s a misconception that private colleges are much less affordable [than public ones],” he said in a recent interview. “The average cost of attendance for students is about the same.”

But while GLCA colleges all strive to make themselves affordable to lower-income students, Antioch is likely the first in the group (covering Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania) to offer free tuition to students eligible for Pell grants, McDonald said.

Within Ohio, Antioch is the first private liberal arts college to offer free tuition to students eligible for Pell grants, according to the college’s Dec. 11 press announcement.

A similar program went into effect at Ohio State University in the fall of 2018, and several other colleges and universities around the country have recently launched free-tuition programs, according to a recent online search by the News.

While “free college” has become a popular, if contested, concept in the current Democratic presidential primaries, most proposals “aren’t doable,” in McDonald’s view. By contrast, targeting low-income students who are eligible for Pell grants, as Antioch will do, is a realistic way to make college widely affordable, he said.

“Targeting Pell-eligible students is a good approach to try to make college very accessible,” McDonald said.

And at Antioch, these students already make up a majority of the student body.

About 60% of this fall’s first-year students were eligible for Pell grants, while 73% of students who entered Antioch in the past three years were Pell-eligible, according to Louima.

So the new program commits the college to more fully serve the students it is already serving, by covering even more of the costs of attending Antioch, Louima said.

“This is more of a commitment for us,” he said.

How much will it cost?

The financial outlay for Antioch College Works is relatively modest in the total picture of the college’s budget.

Specifically, Antioch anticipates spending an additional $260,000 each year under the new program, according to Louima. That amount includes expanded financial aid and scholarship support, funding for new campus jobs and travel grants for students attending co-ops internationally.

The extra quarter-million is a relatively small slice of the college’s total expense budget, which is currently about $12.5 million, according to Manley. And the college plans to gear its fundraising efforts to the new program, making up the gap through philanthropy.

“We’ll make it the focus of fundraising,” he said.

By committing more aid to students with the highest levels of need, and enhancing aid to most students based on need, Antioch leaders are hoping to boost enrollment. Doing so has proven elusive in recent years for a host of reasons specific to Antioch’s status as a relaunched college and related to larger demographic  and economic trends, according to Louima.

“The population of college-going students is declining in Ohio and the Northeast,” he said.

And carrying over from the 2008 recession, students and their families remain intensely concerned about the cost of college, he added.

“They’re price-sensitive and nervous about loan debt,” he said.

Antioch College Works aims to address both those fears.

Having described the program to prospective students and their families who are currently in the college’s “pipeline” of applicants, Louima said the initial response has been positive.

“It alleviates some of the financial worries they have,” he said.

Between a rock and a hard place

Whether the program will alleviate Antioch’s own financial situation remains to be seen.

Antioch College continues to slim down its budget, with this year’s expense and operating revenue budgets both less than last year’s, according to Manley.

Relaunched thanks to massive alumni support totaling over $100 million since 2009, according to Manley at the college’s 10-year anniversary event in October, Antioch College remains highly dependent on alumni philanthropy. Such philanthropy continues to represent at least 80% of the college’s total budget, Manley confirmed.

Donations from alumni largely funded the college’s previous free-tuition program, the Horace Mann Fellowships, a merit scholarship available to all students entering in the relaunched college’s first four classes. And while Antioch over the past several years has sought to increase tuition revenue — traditionally a primary source of revenue for private colleges — the effort has been an uphill battle.

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Manley said of the attempt to move away from the Horace Mann scholarships.

In part, that’s because the college’s commitments to equity and access disincline it from wanting to rely on student tuition, he said.

“Our intention has been to be a place where students could come, regardless of financial need,” he said.

With Antioch College Works, the college will “more fully honor” that intention, Manley added.

The college now nets around $1 million annually in tuition and fees revenue, according to its 2018 financial audit. By contrast, the category of “gifts, pledges and bequests” totaled nearly $5 million of the college’s 2018 revenue budget of about $13 million.

Ironically, the fact that Antioch doesn’t rely on tuition as a main source of income  allows it to increase its generosity and work to make up the gap through philanthropy, Manley said.

“The solution to higher education’s failing financial model this isn’t,” he said of Antioch College Works.

“Neither is fundraising,” he added.

The college instead is trying to diversify its revenue sources beyond tuition and fundraising.

“We don’t think those alone are the answer,” he said.

Antioch College seeks to become a “multi-versity,” rather than a university, with revenue streams derived from public programs and other activities, Manley said. Those plans are still in the works.

But while Antioch College Works isn’t “the answer” to ongoing budget challenges, Manley said he believes it will stimulate new interest in the college — not least because it demonstrates Antioch’s unique value in the changing world of higher education.

A college of ‘applied liberal arts’

Colleges and universities used to be centers of knowledge, Manley said. But that model has changed with the rise of internet technologies and other recent trends. Now, rather than knowledge, “know-how” is at the center of what students and society demand from higher education, he said.

“What’s critically important now is not what you know, but what you do with what you know,” Manley said.

And Antioch occupies a unique position in this new world of higher education, he believes.

“We are an institution that champions applied liberal arts. That’s different,” Manley observed.

The college’s flagship cooperative education program is nearly 100 years old, and while some other schools blend academics and real-world work experience, Antioch has honed its program over many years.

“We see work as a form of education. We’re organized around that,” Manley said.

Asked whether emphasizing work and future employment were a capitulation to critics of liberal arts who favor more specialized or technical degrees, Manley vigorously disagreed.

“It’s not a renunciation of a liberal arts education,” he said.

“It’s exactly the opposite,” Manley continued. “We understand the power of the liberal arts to help students answer the most important questions that human beings have.”

While details of Antioch College Works are still being worked out, the program is intended, among other things, to offer more work opportunities on campus and in the community during the regular academic year, along the lines of the existing Miller Fellows program. Jobs could include working with professors on projects that relate directly to a student’s academic interests, according to Manley.

Currently, just under half of Antioch students hold part-time jobs during the quarters they’re not on co-op, and the new program would increase that number.

And Antioch College Works aims to launch a “post-baccalaureate” version of co-op, offering job placement help to students who haven’t found a job or entered a graduate program six months after graduating from Antioch.

“Students have such great momentum as they come off of co-op. And many students do end up returning to co-op sites after graduation,” Manley noted.

That sounds good to current student Chris Chavers, who transferred into Antioch College in 2018 and had his first co-op experience last spring. Chavers worked from April to June 2019 at the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, Calif., the nation’s largest trans-led civil rights organization.

The job honed writing and critical thinking skills he learned at Antioch, and gave him a wider perspective on community advocacy, as well as a new sense of passion and purpose, Chavers said.

“I came back to Antioch with more fire and fight,” he said.

As a result of the experience, he’s interested in pursuing a law degree; in two weeks, he starts his next co-op, as a paralegal for a Chicago-based law firm.

Chavers, who has been a Miller Fellow and held other jobs on campus, said he’s excited about Antioch College Works both for its promise of greater financial support to students and its emphasis on helping students do meaningful work in the world — starting now.

“You can’t be winning victories for humanities with $2 in your bank account,” he said.

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