Penn State

Scholarship funding for Penn State freshmen on the rise

Penn State will help some 2,700 students next year knock at least $4,000 off their tuition bills, which rank among the most expensive in the country for public universities.

Penn State officials said Friday they will roll out a new scholarship program for incoming freshmen in 2013-14 with scholarships valued between $4,000 and $6,000, a pool of money that amounts to some $20 million to be divvied up over two years. Freshmen enrolling at either the University Park campus or one of the 19 branch campuses will be eligible for the scholarships.

The move comes as Penn State is looking to allay concerns that the rising costs of college may drive away high-quality applicants. The university hopes the money will be an incentive in getting high-achievers to apply. Penn State has seen tuition for its first-year classes more than double from $7,054 in 2001 to $15,562 this year,

“This awards program is about providing opportunities for more people to get a Penn State degree,” said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges that families across the country are facing with respect to financing college in an environment of an economic slowdown and decreasing public support for higher education.”

Penn State’s tuition, currently ranging from $15,562 to $20,090 depending on a student’s year and major, is at or near the top of the most expensive public universities in the country. When last year’s graduates got their diplomas, they left the university with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt, according to financial aid director Anna Griswold.

Nearly 64,000 Penn State undergraduates receive more than $975 million in financial aid.

Of the $20 million, $12 million will be allocated to the incoming freshmen. Those who get the money as freshmen will be eligible for the remaining $8 million in their sophomore years, depending on how well they did in their coursework.

Ten percent of the incoming freshmen to the University Park campus could be in line for a scholarship. The university believes it can offer 765 scholarships. The incoming class’s numbers are not known yet, but the class for 2012-13 was about 7,600.

The university plans to offer almost 2,000 scholarships to the students who enroll at branch campuses.

There were more than 7,200 freshmen among the branch campuses this year.

“We want to serve each region where there is a Penn State campus in the most effective way possible,” Powers said. “In some areas, we are focusing on returning adult students. In other areas, the focus will be on specific curriculum for which the region needs workers, such as health care fields.

The $20 million is coming out of Penn State’s education and general budget line, and the funding is temporary, officials have said.

The scholarship program, called The Provost Awards, is an offshoot of the Chancellor Award program, which has been in place at some of the branch campuses for six years.

Powers said Penn State officials hope the money keeps students at Penn State. That is evidenced by the Chancellor Award scholarship, she said, as students who have received it are staying at Penn State and are graduating at the same rate as their peers.

“This clearly tells us that the awards are working to provide students with the assistance they need to obtain a Penn State education,” she said.