How free semesters give students flexibility

Beloit College has expanded its Beloit Action Plan to offer tuition-free ninth and tenth semesters to students who enroll full-time during the 2020-21 school year.

Enrollment management administrators at many colleges and universities are biting their nails in anticipation of declines in student numbers. While there are always some committed students who don’t show up at the start of the semester, the pandemic is expected to worsen summer melt.

Some higher ed institutions are trying to make the financial uncertainty of the COVID crisis easier on students by promising them extra assistance—even free tuition.

Beloit College in Wisconsin is one such institution. Officials have expanded the Beloit Promise, a component of the Beloit Action Plan, to offer students who enroll full-time during the 2020-21 school year a ninth and tenth semester tuition-free. The idea behind the Promise is to help ensure students are able to continue their education uninterrupted.

“By thinking creatively, we have been able to find ways to ensure that students can still receive the full benefits of a college experience, which integrates academics and extracurricular activities while instilling additional trust with our students and community that we could lead them during this time of radical uncertainty,” says Provost Eric Boynton.

Students have the choice of taking an additional fall or spring semester, or the entire academic year—provided it begins immediately following the eighth semester.

Other schools offering similar programs include St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, allowing new students to plan on a free ninth semester, and Pacific Lutheran University in Washington, which has announced a Plus Year of free tuition to all current students.

The Beloit Action Plan, launched in April, introduced student-centered flexibility throughout the college in response to COVID-19. The plan includes Mods, which divide the semester into halves with two courses each and will minimize disruption should a change between in-person and remote learning occur mid-semester.

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Beloit is also guaranteeing that tuition will be the same or less than the flagship state school for students from in-state as well as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

Boynton’s advice for other schools is this: “We would recommend that colleges focus on delivering unique programs that address the needs of their students in a caring, compassionate, and outcome-driven fashion. If done right, students will respond and become stronger advocates for that college or university.”

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.

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