A new graduate holds up her diploma as she walks across the football field. Credit: Lantern file photo.

Ohio State will cover the full cost of tuition for in-state, undergraduate Columbus campus students eligible for Pell Grants and Ohio College Opportunity Grants — as well as those who come from households that make Ohio’s median income of $55,000 or less — starting Autumn 2018, University President Michael Drake announced Tuesday.

The federally funded Pell Grant and state-funded OCOG programs are both available only for low-income students needing financial assistance.

An estimated 3,500 undergraduate students on Ohio State’s main campus are eligible for this tuition coverage, according to university data. It’s estimated that the total cost each year for Ohio State to cover these students’ tuition is $11 million.

The 2018 academic year will be a pilot for the program, Drake said, and there will not be a set amount of funding determined until the class of 2022 is enrolled. All students who meet the requirements are eligible, not just those incoming to Ohio State in 2018.

“We’re making this announcement now because we think it’s important to have the information out there as families are planning for potential enrollment or application to Ohio State for the 2018 academic year,” Chris Davey, an Ohio State spokesman, said. “As we approach the new academic year through this next year we will be finalizing a lot of the details and fine-tuning the implementation of this program.”

The university did not want to limit coverage to just students whose families have an income at or below $55,000 because some Pell students are above that benchmark, Drake said. About 90 percent of Pell recipients have family incomes of $50,000 or less, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

We’re not the first or the only state to do this, but we’re just happy to be able to do this for Ohio State students. – University President Michael Drake

The program will cover what federal and state aid does not, to match the total cost of a student’s tuition. For instance, if an eligible student receives $5,000 in state aid, the rest of tuition will be covered by Ohio State.

“Our goal is basically using federal, state and institutional aid,” Drake said. “We can meet the tuition costs of Pell-eligible families.”

The number of Pell students on Ohio State’s Columbus campus has fluctuated over the past 10 years, according to university data. In 2007, there were 1,018 total incoming students who received the grant; in 2011, there were 1,510; and in 2016, there were 1,232.  

The majority of the $11 million comes from Ohio State’s 50-year deal with Ohio State Energy Partners — a partnership formed with French-based energy company Engie, and Axium, an investment firm.

As part of the partnership’s contract, Energy Partners gave $1 billion upfront to Ohio State, and is investing $150 million in university academics. In return, the university will pay Energy Partners a fixed fee of $45 million each year, with a 1.5 percent increase to cover inflation, as well as operating and variable fees.

University President Michael Drake announced the tuition coverage program Tuesday, which applies to in-state, undergraduate students on Ohio State’s main campus. Credit: Lantern File Photo

The tuition program, which does not have an end date, will cover up to four years of in-state tuition at Ohio State, which currently costs $10,591 annually for incoming first-years.

The tuition coverage program will potentially expand to regional campuses Autumn 2019, Drake said.

About 1,200 students from Ohio State branch campuses are eligible for the tuition program, Davey said.

Davey said the four-year coverage cap could change, but not by much, as keeping that time frame is also a means of affordability.

“It could change,” Drake said. “I would say four years would be the minimal. One of the things that we would like to do is not having it be for too much more than four years.”

While the program reaches in-state students, Ohio State sees out-of-state students’ situation differently in terms of affordability, Drake said.

“They come because it’s the best opportunity for them; many of them come with merit-based financial aid, but our real commitment to need-based financial aid is to Ohio students,” he said. “We leave the affordability [grants] to the states they come from.”

This program has been in Drake’s mind since he came to Ohio State in 2014, he said.

Drake said the university has been working since then to create more opportunities for affordability by decreasing administrative costs and forming partnerships like Energy Partners, resources he says allow for Ohio state to make the “highest quality possible college education affordable to even more families.”

The only other Ohio college to do a program similar in nature is Case Western Reserve University, a private school, Drake added. Similar programs exist at schools in other states, such as the University of Missouri and University of Michigan.

“We’re not the first or the only state to do this, but we’re just happy to be able to do this for Ohio State students,” he said.