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Otterbein University Launches Statewide College Affordability Initiative

Grant Walters Grant Walters Otterbein University Launches Statewide College Affordability InitiativeOtterbein President John Comerford (L) and Columbus City Schools Interim Superintendent John Stanford with CCS students, staff, and alumni. Photos provided by Jenny Hill, Otterbein University Director of Marketing and Communications.
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On Nov. 15, Otterbein University officially announced its latest effort to increase college affordability for students attending Ohio high schools.

Originally invoked as a pilot program in conjunction with Columbus City Schools to improve local high school graduation rates and increased access to post-secondary educational programs, the ‘Otterbein Commitment’ is now being expanded with the vision of “making a 21st century liberal arts education affordable to students across the state,” according to a University press release.

John Stanford kicks off launch event.

Columbus City Schools Interim Superintendent John Stanford spoke at a special launch event held at South High School on the day of the announcement, which included an assembly of the school’s students and staff, community members, media, and representatives from both Otterbein and CCS.

“Today, more students are graduating from Columbus City Schools than the year before, and we are striving to go to higher heights than the current 78.1 percent graduation rate we have right now,” he affirmed. “We’ll do that by boosting the types of academic interventions and social supports we have in place to help all of our seniors reach and cross the finish line on graduation day. We believe that every one of our Columbus graduates who has the determination and desire to continue their education should have the opportunity without the barriers and the burdens of college debt.”

Stanford shared that the graduating class of 2018 earned close to $68 million in scholarships and grants through Columbus’ local I Know I Can college access program. He expressed his confidence that the 2019 class would exceed that already impressive figure, and that Otterbein’s initiative would ensure more students could secure the funds they need to pursue a degree.

“Students in every zip code deserve access to a variety of university options, and families in all income brackets deserve to have a way to plan to send their students, their children, to college,” says Stanford. “Being a first-generation college student myself from a working-class family, I completely understand and appreciate the importance of this commitment Otterbein is making — to open the doors of the university to make sure that [students] have equitable opportunities to be successful in life.”

John Comerford meets South High School students.

Otterbein University president, John Comerford, pointed out a series of problems in higher education he believes have worked against students’ access to and persistence in college.

“Education can get a little siloed,” he says. “What’s happening in this school district and what’s happening in that school district is disconnected from the community college and disconnected from the four-year school. And that’s a problem for students across the country. And when we don’t connect well, it creates leaky parts of the pipeline where we lose students who could’ve and should’ve gone onto that next step.”

Comerford indicated that Ohio will see its high school graduation rate shrink by 11 percent over the next decade, and that nationwide only 40 percent of students who started their college careers in 2018 are predicted to receive a degree. Poor institutional matches are partly to blame, but tuition and financial aid predictability are also a factor. Comerford outlined two new programs that are designed to combat those issues for students considering Otterbein as their college of choice, the first of which is its Opportunity Scholarship that will be available to students statewide.

“All students in the state of Ohio who are Pell Grant eligible…we will cover the rest of the need for your tuition, period,” Comerford says. “We will be affordable. You don’t have to guess, you don’t have to wonder, you don’t have to wait six months for your financial aid package. We will tell you right away that we’re going to cover full need for tuition.”

We’re also announcing something we call ‘Tuition Transparency.’ We know that Otterbein has, for the last five years, held tuition flat. But now we have families saying, ‘Well, you’ve held tuition flat for five years. You can’t hold it forever, can you? So when is the big 20 percent increase going to come? When is shoe going to drop?’ Tuition will go up, but it will go up $600 per year — less than 2 percent. Two percent per year, $600, committed for your whole four years in school. No other school will make that commitment, I promise.”

Comerford also discussed Otterbein’s long-standing corporate partnerships, which have generated a number of opportunities for its students to get hands-on research and development experience with major firms like JPMorgan Chase, Nestlé, and OhioHealth among others.

He attested to Otterbein’s commitment to underrepresented populations, noting that its most recent first-year student cohort was the most diverse in the university’s history, with students of color comprising 24 percent.

“It’s time to invest, it’s time to double down, because only Otterbein has a history — it’s in our DNA and at our very founding. We have been about access and inclusion. It is who we are and we are unabashed about that fact.”

Other components of the Otterbein Commitment include:

Urban Districts Initiative.
The Urban Districts Initiative began in 2014 with Columbus City Schools, but was quickly expanded to include Southwest City Schools, Westerville City Schools and Whitehall City Schools, and now Cristo Rey, all districts with more than 35 percent of students living in poverty. The Initiative is an enhanced need-based aid model that reduces the gap between aid and expected family contribution to the smallest amount possible.

Dependent Children of CCS District (Benefits Eligible) Employees Scholarship.
Otterbein is introducing a scholarship for the dependent children of CCS district (benefits eligible) employees that reduces the cost of an Otterbein education to the average of the state supported universities in Ohio. The Otterbein Scholarship for Children of Columbus City School (Benefits Eligible) Employees is available to any undergraduate under the age of 23 who has not completed a bachelor’s degree, whether they are applying as a new first-time, first-year student or a transfer student.

Columbus State-Otterbein Dual Admission Program (DAP).
The Columbus State-Otterbein DAP program allows a student to earn two degrees (associate and bachelor) for less than half the cost of attending an Ohio public university. Students apply directly to the DAP program and are admitted to both universities. Working with a jointly funded academic advisor, students earn the CSCC Associate degree with confidence that every course counts towards their Otterbein bachelor’s degree.

A complete description of the Otterbein Commitment is available here

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