FAQ: OBERLIN ACCESS INITIATIVE
1) What is the Oberlin Access Initiative?
The initiative is a broad effort to ensure that any qualified student who wishes to attend Oberlin College will be able to do so, regardless of their financial circumstances. Begun with a commitment of $1.2 million from Trustee Clyde McGregor '74, the initial phase of the Oberlin Access Initiative will focus on providing loan-free financial aid packages to Oberlin students from the most disadvantaged families.
2) Who does this affect?
Loan requirements will be eliminated for members of the incoming class of 2012 who are eligible to receive the federally funded Pell Grant. In addition, this aid will be extended to all current Pell-eligible students returning in fall of 2008. This group includes more than 300 students—about 12 percent of Oberlin's total enrollment. The majority of families qualifying for Pell Grants have annual incomes of $35,000 or less.
3) What does the private gift earmarked for the incoming class of 2012 cover?
The $1.2 million will eliminate loan obligations for the approximately 50 McGregor Scholars expected to matriculate in late summer 2008 throughout their four years at Oberlin. It will provide a financial bridge so that the College can reach out to alumni, friends, and parents for additional funding for subsequent classes. The goal is to have enough funding in place by the fall of 2009, and for each class going forward, to provide grants that eliminate debt for Oberlin's neediest students in perpetuity.
4) Where will the money come from to fund the initiative?
The College is raising private funds specifically to provide loan relief for families that meet Pell Grant guidelines. This will not affect existing college grants to students. Through the generosity of alumni, parents, and friends, this initiative could be broadened to provide aid for other students with financial need who are not eligible for federal Pell Grants.
5) How does this initiative fit with the mission of Oberlin College?
Ensuring access to Oberlin is a moral issue. Throughout our history, young people from every walk of life and socio-economic strata have come here. They went on to embody Oberlin's spirit of inclusion, its insistence on academic and artistic excellence and its traditions of leadership, innovation, creativity. Eliminating loan obligations for our most disadvantaged students and their families honors Oberlin's history and values.
A diverse student population is a critical component in liberal arts education.
Oberlin has been a recognized leader in providing access to students regardless of race, creed or color since its founding in 1833. Oberlin helped to define liberal arts education by becoming the first college in the nation to adopt a policy to admit students regardless of race (1835) and the first to award baccalaureate degrees to women in a coeducational program with men (1841). Oberlin's commitment to access was underscored in 2005, by the adoption of its Strategic Plan which cites the College's “unwavering commitment to social diversity, inclusion, and engagement.”
6) How much financial aid does Oberlin provide to its students?
Approximately 70 percent of Oberlin students now receive some form of financial aid, a far higher percentage than at most of its peer schools. This year, Oberlin will spend more than $41 million on financial aid, a 280 percent increase compared to just 14 years ago. That total is equivalent to 28 percent of the College's operating budget, a ranking among the highest of any college or university in the country.
7) Why is Oberlin undertaking this initiative now?
Financial access to higher education has become a hot topic. In recent months, universities and colleges in the United States have been undergoing a sea change in financial aid. Facing pressure from Congress, Harvard University moved in December 2007 to reduce the cost of attending for students from middle- and lower-income families. While few schools rival Harvard's wealth, its actions put great pressure on other institutions to respond. This initiative is a way to maintain Oberlin's historic leadership in providing access to qualified students from every strata of society.
8) Will federal Pell Grants be replaced with grants made through the Oberlin Access Initiative (OAI)?
No. The federal guidelines for receiving a Pell Grant are being utilized as a measure of financial need. Pell eligibility is based on a complex formula that includes family income, net assets, the number of dependent children, and other factors. Students should still apply for (and receive) federal Pell Grants if they are eligible. The Oberlin Access Initiative enables eligible students to avoid borrowing to pay for college.
9) I had to take out loans to pay for college. Why shouldn't today's students bear the same burden?
Across the nation, college tuition has risen dramatically in the last two decades due to increases in the cost of health care, energy, and other factors. Paying for college today is much different than in previous generations, when a summer job could cover the cost of tuition for an entire semester. In addition, government assistance for low- and middle-income families was drastically reduced in the 1980s, when many grant programs were gutted in favor of student loan packages.
Given this situation, even a modest loan is a burden for a student from a Pell-eligible family. The need to service that debt may limit these students' choices of majors, internships and careers. In order to provide truly equal access for qualified students of all backgrounds to an Oberlin education—including opportunities to do undergraduate research with a faculty mentor, participate in a winter term project, work on an unpaid internship in Washington D.C., or provide leadership to a student organization—Pell-eligible students and their families need to be freed from servicing an onerous debt upon graduation.
10) Will transfer students receive grants through the Oberlin Access Initiative?
No. These grants are focused on incoming, first-year students with financial challenges. The grants are being extended to Pell Grant-eligible families of existing students so that the aid will be as equitable as possible throughout the current student body.