AKRON, Ohio — Paying for college is a huge hurdle for many families and its only become more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of Akron just announced a new scholarship program that will help some students get their degrees for free.
Undergraduate enrollment at colleges and universities nationwide dropped 3.6% last fall, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
That’s more than 560,200 students and twice the rate of the decline seen in 2019.
“There was a lot of uncertainty. We ended up mirroring the national trend,” John Wiencek, the executive vice president and provost at the University of Akron, said.
Those losses are driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic which only worsened problems already plaguing families trying to get their kids to college, like being able to afford it.
“The jobs that were lost during the pandemic really hit a lot of those families harder than others, a lot of students work in those fields like restaurants and things like that,” Bob Durham, the senior director of scholarship services at College Now Greater Cleveland, said.
Now, the University of Akron is trying to level the playing field for students from low-income backgrounds with its new Zips Affordability Scholarship.
It covers new, first-time freshman students in six Northeast Ohio counties -- Cuyahoga, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, and Wayne -- who are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant program. It will automatically cover the rest of the student’s tuition and fees after federal and state grants and any other scholarships are applied to their bill.
Students can get the scholarship for four consecutive years at the university or until they finish their bachelor’s degree -- whichever comes first.
Roughly 30% of University of Akron students qualify for the Pell Grant.
Wiencek said the scholarship had been in the works for a few years, but this year was the perfect time to put it in action.
“We view ourselves as a university of opportunity and we want to position our students to have the opportunity to come here,” Wiencek said. “We think this is a pivotal moment for these students, really could make a difference for their own lives and their family's lives. And we want to be part of their journey.”
More information about the University of Akron’s Zips Affordability Scholarship can be found here.
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