Seton Hall program cuts tuition

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - When Joseph Testa of Cedar Grove was in high school, he dreamed of attending Seton Hall University, but he also realized the tuition was going to present a financial challenge to his family. That meant he had to work diligently in high school to achieve the academic scores needed to compete for an academic scholarship to the Catholic university in South Orange.

Seton Hall officials wanted to give more students like Testa, who is a senior at the university this year, the same opportunity. So, they've initiated a pilot program for next year that profoundly restructures the school's tuition, cutting costs by 60 percent for incoming students who are top academic achievers in high school.

"We recognize these are very difficult economic times, families are really struggling," said Alyssa McCloud, vice president for enrollment and management at Seton Hall University. "Students are working hard and have dreams and maybe feel that a Catholic education is out of their reach.

"We wanted to be able to reward those students, but also help the families who are struggling and let them know that a value-based Catholic education is available to them," McCloud said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Some national education experts have expressed concerns that Seton Hall's plan could speed up what they say is a national trend to shift the focus of financial aid from awarding scholarships based on need to awarding them on merit.

Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, told The Wall Street Journal that he was concerned the move by Seton Hall will contribute to a trend of schools moving further away from the original intent of subsidizing higher education by providing financial aid packages to students who otherwise couldn't afford college.

McCloud said the goal of the pilot program is twofold: to reward more students who have earned high marks in high school and to help financially strapped families afford a private college by giving them education at a state-school price.

"We have a lot of scholarships for students who don't qualify for the public tuition-rate program," she said, "and that commitment is not being changed or altered by the introduction of this program."

Currently, Seton Hall's annual tuition is $31,440. Students eligible for the pilot program can attend a year at the school for $10,104, which is in line with tuition at New Jersey state colleges.

For students to be eligible, they must graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and score a combined 1,200 minimum on their math and reading segments of the SAT.

If students enrolled in the program maintain a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, they will be able to pay that tuition rate all four years at Seton Hall, McCloud said.

"There is an incredible diversity among Catholic colleges and universities, and a similar diversity among their tuition policies, which vary at different times to meet different needs," said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

"For many institutions, offering merit aid generates sufficient net tuition revenue to allow them to more fully fund need-based aid," Galligan-Stierl said. "You don't have one without the other. The mix is an integral part of an institution's efforts to balance mission-based values with market realities."

University officials will evaluate the program next year to see if it's financially sustainable for the future, McCloud said. "It's our hope that we will be able to continue it."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970