Ohio State Launching Pilot Program for 125 Students to Graduate Debt-Free in 4 Years

Ohio State University is launching a pilot program to allow 125 students to graduate debt-free in four years, the Associated Press reported.

The program, called Scarlet and Gray Advantage, is scheduled to begin next fall with 125 low- and middle-income students. The goal is to integrate the program over a decade at an estimated cost of around $100 million a year. An $800 million fundraising campaign is in the works to support the initiative. While costs will cover supplies, fees, housing and tuition, Ohio State President Kristina Johnson stressed that it isn't free college.

"It will equalize in my view the opportunity for any student to achieve the American dream," Johnson said.

Students in the program must commit to graduating in four years and will learn about financial skills. Financials forms will be filled out each year by the students or their families.

"Ultimately, you'll be more successful at what you're passionate about, no matter what it pays," Johnson said. "We just want them to have that equality of opportunity."

Currently, Ohio State has a tuition guarantee, which means students pay the same amount in tuition as they paid when they were freshmen.

Almost half of the university's students have debt when they graduate, Johnson said. Last year's graduating class had an average of around $27,000.

She added that having debt can change a student's path in life, causing them to change careers or postpone life events.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Debt-free College, Ohio State University, Program
Ohio State University is launching a pilot program to allow 125 students to graduate debt-free in four years. Above, an Ohio State banner waves during a football game. Doug Pensinger/ALLSPORT

Ongoing fundraising and university contributions will cover about $30 million a year, with an endowment of around $500 million meant to cover the rest annually. The program also includes access to federal and state grants, and will be available to all undergraduates, including out-of-state and international students.

The university and top donors will double up to $50 million in private donations of at least $100,000 under a fundraising sweetener.

Internships in students' fields will pay a living wage and would likely take place during the summer, Johnson said, possibly involving students living on-campus in student housing while they work.

Even with the current pandemic-driven employee shortage, Johnson believes, there will be enough jobs to go around. That detail is one of many she expects to be ironed out during next year's pilot.

Last month, Smith College in Massachusetts announced it was eliminating loans from undergraduate financial aid packages next year and will replace them with grants from the college.

Washington University of St. Louis offers a "no-loan" program for families of first-year undergraduate students with annual incomes of $75,000 or less. Those students receive full financial aid packages without debt.

Ohio State University, Pilot Program, Debt-free
In addition to its pilot program, Ohio State University has a tuition guarantee, which means students pay the same amount in tuition as they paid when they were freshmen. Above, a lone figure walks across a normally busy area of campus near the Oval at Ohio State University on August 13, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images