University Offering Free Tuition In Exchange For Property

By Staff
September 8, 2009

Finlandia University in Michigan has struck an unusual deal with nearby Hancock Central High School, allowing the university to use a building and field owned by the high school in exchange for free tuition for its students.

The Associated Press reports that 25 of Hancock's 55 graduates are currently enrolled in Finlandia as a result of the program, while typically the university attracts less than 10 students a year from the high school. Tuition at Finlandia runs about $18,000 a year at the institution, although routine discounts generally reduce the average cost to about $12,700.

The deal will allow the university to expand its health-science curriculum by using Hancock's aging middle school. Finlandia will also share a 10-acre sports field with the high school, providing a place for its athletic teams to play--including a new Division II football squad slated to begin in 2012. Currently, Finlandia is seeking about $9 million in donations to upgrade the athletics field and create labs, faculty offices and other improvements to the building.

The unique deal, which was announced early this year, is receiving a fair amount of attention because it effectively addresses the problem of high tuition while spurring local economic development. Nick Stevens, the university's executive vice president for business, explained that by offering free tuition locally, Finlandia will be able to expand and attract more paying students. Moreover, Hancock's Mayor Bill Laitila noted that the hefty tuition break has prompted families to consider moving to the former mining town of 4,900.

"The Finlandia-Hancock model of exchanging tuition for property is an original take on the idea of offering financial aid to spur economic and population growth in struggling communities," noted the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Earlier this year, Michigan's Daily Mining Gazette reported that the tuition remission, which is called the Hancock Award, does have limits: The first year, Finlandia will pay a maximum of $100,000 in tuition for Hancock school students accepted to the university, and that amount will increase by $100,000 every year until it reaches $400,000 the fourth year. For the next eight years after that, the maximum tuition paid will be $400,000 per year. Therefore, increased enrollment from the high school will likely result in less tuition aid available to each student.

The Gazette also noted that the amount of tuition paid to each student will depend on that student's financial need. And Hancock Central High School Principal John Sanregret said that to be eligible for the tuition break, students must have a minimum 2.0 grade-point average.

Yet he wasn't surprised by the number of students who applied for the tuition remission. "I knew an opportunity like this wouldn't be passed by," he said.

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