As ‘Working College,’ Berea Provides High Quality at No Cost

Originally posted by Kentucky Ag Connection

Student loan debt in the United States is no joke. The total amount of debt has tripled since 2005 with college graduates and former students owing a jaw-dropping $1.6 trillion. Student loan debt is only surpassed by mortgage debt in the U.S.

The debt burden today’s college grads are carrying is actually changing the way millennials live their lives when compared to previous generations. Some have delayed marriage, put off buying a home, and even foregone having children due to their student loan burdens.

Continue reading As ‘Working College,’ Berea Provides High Quality at No Cost

As a ‘Working College,’ Berea College Provides High-Quality Education to Low-Income Students at No Cost

Guest post by Matt Walker, credit strategist and contributing editor to badcredit.org

Student loan debt in the United States is no joke. The total amount of debt has tripled since 2005 with college graduates and former students owing a jaw-dropping $1.6 trillion. Student loan debt is only surpassed by mortgage debt in the U.S.

The debt burden today’s college grads are carrying is actually changing the way millennials live their lives when compared to previous generations. Some have delayed marriage, put off buying a home, and even foregone having children due to their student loan burdens.

The student loan crisis recently gained a bit more attention on the national stage as COVID-19 has spread across the country. Social distancing and shelter-at-home orders have left millions out of work. Thankfully, Congress was able to quickly come together to pass the CARES Act, which halted student loan payments for six months and also paused collections on overdue student loan payments.

But after the COVID-19 crisis ends, the student loan debt crisis will remain.

What if students didn’t have to pay tuition to receive a high-quality college education? What if they went out into the world after four years debt-free and ready to contribute to society?

That’s what’s happening at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. The private college uses its endowment to accept academically promising, low-income students who likely would not have any other way to pursue higher education. And as part of their tuition-free education, students work 10 hours or more per week for the college in some capacity.

As the college itself puts it, it’s the best education money can’t buy.

We recently spoke with Berea College’s President Dr. Lyle Roelofs about the institution’s history and differentiating approach to higher education.

An Institution Founded on Progressive Ideals in the Pre-Civil War Era

“The college actually goes back to just before the Civil War,” Roelofs said. “It was founded by an abolitionist. Early on, it wasn’t completely free but it was always interracial and co-educational from the start.”

Berea College was the vision of Rev. John G. Fee, who started the institution as a one-room school in the central Kentucky town in 1855.

Berea was the first interracial and co-educational college to be founded in the South.“Fee, a native of Bracken County, Ky., was a scholar of strong moral character, dedication, determination, and great faith,” according to the college website. “He believed in a school that would be an advocate of equality and excellence in education for men and women of all races.”

Like so many businesses and institutions in the south, the college shuttered its doors during the Civil War but reopened as a bigger and better institution shortly after the war ended. The college made its next big step toward the model it operates on today with the tenure of its third president, who made some big changes.

“One was to eliminate tuition and another was to provide on-campus jobs for every student,” Roelofs said. “The idea was that those two things would enable students — instead of going away, working for a semester, coming back, then going away, and coming back — they might be able just to go right through and get their degree.”

To replace the cost of tuition, the college began a fundraising campaign aimed at wealthy people, mostly in the Northeast, who were willing to support schools in the South during the Reconstruction Era, Roelofs said.

“That was successful. (The president) promoted our service to Appalachia,” Roelofs said. “The idea was, as he put it, ‘to educate those undiscovered Abraham Lincolns that are still in the mountains and would otherwise not have access because they just don’t have any money.”

In the 1920s, the college established an endowment to move away from a model of only fundraising.

These early visionary and progressive efforts laid the foundation for the successful institution that Berea College is today.

How the Working College Model Functions and Allows Students to Attend Tuition-Free

Roelofs said Berea College’s endowment has now grown to a point that on a per-student basis it is comparable to some of the most highly ranked colleges in the country, and so is able to support a very high-quality educational experience.

“Until the recent downturn, it was about $750,000 per student,” he said. “That spins off about $35,000 to $40,000 per student per year. And that’s the foundation for the business model. We also raise another $4 million from donors annually. And we get a lot of Pell support because we don’t take students unless they have high need.”

Besides accepting no tuition, one of Berea College’s other main distinctions is that it is one of only nine federally recognized Working Colleges in the U.S.Roelofs explained that if a student can afford to pay any tuition at all, his or her application will not be accepted at Berea College. The mean family income of the college’s first-year students is less than $30,000 per year.

At Berea, every student works 10 to 15 hours per week while carrying a full academic load. The students are able to choose work options in more than 100 college and off-campus programs.

“Students gain valuable workplace experience, earn money for books, food and other expenses, and their appreciation for the dignity and utility of labor is enhanced,” according to the Berea College website.

And there is plenty of work to go around.

“The students are such good workers that every department around here wants more students,” Roelofs said. “The jobs are there — we’re always short on students to fill every job.”

The big upside for Berea College students is that they can graduate from college debt-free, unlike students from so many other institutions in the U.S.

Roelofs said that about one-third of Berea College students don’t incur any debt at all. Other students may incur small debts if they want to study abroad for a semester or perhaps they have family members they help care for.

But for those two-thirds, the average debt upon graduation is a meager $6,700. Not bad, considering the average college graduate in 2017 left school with an average debt of $28,650.

An Academic Curriculum That Sets Students Up to Succeed and Share Their Success

Although Berea College’s business model as a Working College is much different than most higher education institutions, it still offers a high-caliber education in an array of degree programs.

Students can earn a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree in one of 32 different majors or choose alternative options such as student-designed majors or a dual-degree engineering program. Berea also houses 16 national and international honor societies.

“Berea’s educational experience provides students the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the world,” according to the college website. “Berea provides a stimulating and challenging environment. Whether in the classroom, attending a Convocation, interning, studying abroad or linking labor with academic goals, the educational experience is truly like no other.”

Roelofs praised the students’ work ethic, saying they don’t take their education opportunity for granted. About 70% of Berea College students are from the Appalachian region, but overall, there are 1,600 undergraduate students representing nearly every U.S. state and more than 60 countries. And 1 out of 3 students is a person of color, according to the college.

“Berea students are much more aware that this is probably their best and only chance to get a college degree,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘If this doesn’t work out for me, Mom and Dad will let me transfer to another school, and they’ll continue to pay tuition.’ If you don’t make it at Berea, you probably don’t have other good options. Maybe you go into the military or to a community college and see how that goes.”

Additionally, the student body is less cynical than it may be at other schools, Roelofs said.

And with Berea College graduates entering the workforce with little to no debt, they are free to make positive impacts on society and help their families in ways that may not have otherwise been possible.

“When you change the economic trajectory of a student’s life you actually change many trajectories,” Roelofs said. “That student will go on to have a family, and that family will be in completely different circumstances than they otherwise would have.”

This also means the student can help his or her other family members, such as parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins as well.

“So the impact of changing one life is really much, much broader than that one life,” he said.

Berea College has seen its graduates go on to an array of successful careers. One graduate won the Nobel Prize, Roelofs said, while another went on to become a doctor who founded the Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University.

While Berea College’s business model may not be realistic for every higher education institution, maybe it can serve as an inspiration for leaders and decision-makers to seek alternatives to the current system that has resulted in student debt problems for so many.

NPR Features Berea College’s No Tuition Policy and Labor Program

Draper Building

Berea College was the focus of a feature story by Jeff Tyler recently broadcast by National Public Radio. Tyler, a journalist for NPR’s Marketplace and All Things Considered, recently visited Berea’s campus to prepare the story that focused on how Berea College and Alice Lloyd College provide no-tuition enrollment for college students and offer examples other American colleges might follow.

Continue reading NPR Features Berea College’s No Tuition Policy and Labor Program

CNN Features Berea as Counterpoint to American Admissions Scandals

Amid media coverage of the FBI’s “Varsity Blues” college scam cases, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria contrasted how Berea College offers “a high-quality education to economically-disadvantaged students in pursuit of their American dreams.”

A special CNN documentary that aired Sunday, October 20, examined how the college admissions process in America became so broken. Titled SCHEME and SCANDAL: Inside the College Admissions Crisis, the documentary investigated how some students and their high-profile celebrity parents have turned to criminal rigging of their applications in pursuit of entrance to the most in-demand colleges. The hour-long program also reported on lesser-known cases of cheating that did not make the headlines: paying bribes to coaches, admissions officers, and other school officials, hiring standardized test takers, obtaining false diagnoses to secure more time for testing, and more.

In contrast, Berea College was highlighted as an alternate model for access and affordability to quality higher education, especially for those who can least afford it. Students were interviewed and spoke about the opportunities Berea provides that they and their families could not otherwise afford. The program featured Berea’s distinctive no-tuition model and how the College’s endowment and contributions from alumni and other donors provides the capital to invest in lives of great promise.

The program will be rebroadcast on November 2, 2019. Check local listings for times in your area.

Berea College Ranked No. 1 “Best Value College” by The Wall Street Journal/THE

A Berea College student reading the Wall Street Journal's article ranking Berea College Number 1Berea College tops the list of “Best Value Colleges” in the nation in The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (THE) 2020 College Rankings. Looking at the top 250 schools overall, the rankings calculated which schools provide the best value by dividing each school’s overall score by its average net price according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. The average net price is the total cost of attending a school—including tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other costs—minus federal or institutional financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Students who don’t receive any aid aren’t included in the calculation.

Berea’s no-tuition model contributed to its No. 1 best-value ranking. The College ranked No. 155 overall.

“We are thrilled to be ranked at the top of this impressive list of colleges and universities and are proud to be leading a cohort of schools that are committed to the important American ideal of social mobility through educational opportunity,” said Berea College President Lyle Roelofs. “Our no-tuition policy allows us to provide talented students who might not otherwise be able to afford access to a high-quality liberal arts education and transformative experiences and enables them to graduate with little or no debt.”

Following Berea on the list are three schools in the City University of New York (CUNY) system: CUNY City College of New York, CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College and CUNY Hunter College. The University of Washington-Seattle rounds out the top five.

Eight of the top 10 best-value colleges in this year’s Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings are public schools whose financial resources are constrained by government budgets.

Read the Wall Street Journal article (pdf) and watch this segment from Spectrum News 1 about our ranking.

Berea Named One of the Best 385 Colleges in the Princeton Review’s 2020 Guide

Graduates celebrating in Seabury Center

(Photo: Crystal Wylie ’05)

Princeton Review 2020 CoverThe Princeton Review has once again included Berea College in its just-released publication of The Best 385 Colleges: 2020 Edition.

Berea is nationally recognized for its high-quality education and its distinctive labor program, which hires every admitted student to help operate the school. Berea is also known for its Tuition Promise Scholarship that covers the $44,100 annual tuition cost for every student. That is particularly meaningful for Berea’s students since most come from families making an average of $29,000 and are the first in their families to attend college.

The Princeton Review’s list of best colleges is based on input from students at America’s schools on a survey that asked students 84 questions about their school’s academics, administration, campus community and themselves. The answer format uses a five-point Likert scale to convert qualitative student assessments into quantitative data for school-to-school comparisons. The company does not rank the 385 schools in the book hierarchically, from 1 to 385 in any category. Instead The Princeton Review surveyed 140,000 students at 385 of the nation’s top colleges to rate their schools on dozens of topics important to applicants and their parents.

“Berea’s continued recognition among America’s top schools is gratifying,” said Lyle D. Roelofs, president of Berea College. “Berea’s no-tuition model is especially important to our students whose families seek the kind of high-quality liberal arts education Berea College offers, but cannot afford to pay tuition. The national attention on Berea from organizations such as The Princeton Review helps families connect with a school that will meet their needs. This recognition also puts a spotlight on Berea’s many alumni and friends whose contributions replace tuition so that our student’s outcomes are not limited by their financial situations.” 

“The 385 colleges for this edition were chosen as ‘best’ overall, academically, based on data gathered in 2018–19 from more than a thousand school administrators about their schools’ academic programs and offerings,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief and lead author of the book.

Elite and Affordable

Draper Building

Question: What do Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Princeton and Berea have in common?
Answer:  They were all named as the top five elite universities that also are the most affordable for low-income families.

Skyler Lucci, CEO of HeyTutor, says that with need-blind admissions and generous financial aid programs, “America’s most elite universities are also the most affordable for low-income families while also providing an excellent education.” Berea College is among the top 5.

Using data from research conducted by The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution, Lucci’s article, published by T74 (the74million.org) states that sometimes students and parents don’t fully understand the financial aid process or the difference between the published and net prices. As a result, low-income students may (wrongly) assume elite schools will be too expensive for them, when in fact, substantial financial resources are available to them. For example, Lucci points out that “Unlike most colleges in the U.S., Berea does not charge tuition in the traditional sense. Instead, it covers costs through endowment income, funds from donations and other sources of financial aid.” The article also states that Berea is an “. . . excellent institution of higher education for students with limited economic means.”

Nerdwallet Spotlights Berea’s Student Work Program

Student carrying a plant at the Ecovillage

Nerdwallet, a personal financial services blogsite that provides information on banking, credit cards, college loans, mortgage loans, insurance, and stock trading, highlighted Berea College in a recent article. The feature focused on Berea’s Student Labor Program and two other schools that are members of the Work Colleges Consortium that also require students to work.

Continue reading Nerdwallet Spotlights Berea’s Student Work Program

Berea Named a “Best Value” College by the Princeton Review

Student forming a clay mugBerea College, widely known for its no-tuition policy, is one of the nation’s best colleges for students seeking a superb education with great career preparation at an affordable price, according to The Princeton Review®.

The newly-published 2019 edition of The Princeton Review’s annual guide, The Best Value Colleges: 200 Schools with Exceptional ROI for Your Tuition Investment, recommends colleges considered the nation’s best for academics, affordability and career prospects. The distinction is based on a ROI (return on investment) rating score developed by The Princeton Review that weights more than 40 data points, including data from previous years’ surveys of students and administrators at more than 650 U.S. colleges. Other factors include starting and mid-career salaries and career social impact. Continue reading Berea Named a “Best Value” College by the Princeton Review

Berea College Noted for Easing Student Financial Burden

A Berea graduate raising her arms in celebration with her diploma in hand

(Photo: Desiree Dunn ’21)

A recent article published by U. S. News & World Report included Berea among selective colleges where students are eager to apply, be accepted and attend. The story named highly competitive colleges that are considered “high yield,” which refers to the percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll. The article specifically cited Berea College and the United States Naval Academy for high yields and no tuition, stating “Two liberal arts colleges with high yield figures – the Naval Academy and Berea College in Kentucky – provide a tuition-free education, easing the financial burden on students and their families as the cost of school continues to rise across the nation.” Read the full article here.

Berea College Featured In Business Insider

With national debates about rising tuition costs for higher education and the increasing amount of debt students carry upon graduation, Business Insider takes a look at Berea College and suggests other American colleges and universities might glean some lessons from Berea. Continue reading Berea College Featured In Business Insider

Courtney ’18: Holding Her Future in Her Hands

Courtney '18

Courtney is special, but not different. She holds the proof in her hands. Fleeing “a bad environment” in Cincinnati, young Courtney and her mother found shelter with family in a little eastern Kentucky town—a little eastern Kentucky town with fewer than ten other African Americans living in it. Here, when young Courtney was feeling different, a teacher pointed out something about her hands that made her feel better. Continue reading Courtney ’18: Holding Her Future in Her Hands

Kiplinger Ranks Berea College The Country’s #1 Best Value

For the second consecutive year, Berea College tops Kiplinger’s list of the country’s best-value private colleges where students pay less than $20,000 a year. In determining the ranking, Kiplinger cited Berea College’s generous financial aid and commitment to providing an education to students with limited financial resources. Continue reading Kiplinger Ranks Berea College The Country’s #1 Best Value

National Report Shows Berea College Has Lowest Tuition and Fees in the Nation

According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), Berea College is the nation’s least expensive private college when calculating the costs of tuition and fees, and continues to be a model institution for making college accessible and affordable for students with great promise but limited financial resources. Continue reading National Report Shows Berea College Has Lowest Tuition and Fees in the Nation