New tuition support announced

Allegheny announced its new Commitment to Access Program, which will be implemented starting in the 2023-24 academic year, in an email to the community on Thursday, Oct. 6.
The program “will cover 100 percent of tuition for Pennsylvania students from families earning an income of $50,000 or less” annually, according to the college’s press release. CAP is available to both current and prospective students. Students only need to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be considered for the program.
Director of Financial Aid Natasha Eckart said CAP is the product of Allegheny trying to serve their population in a diverse manner.
“It’s Allegheny’s dedication to helping some of our higher-need students (afford an Allegheny education) and recognizing we have a commitment to those students,” Eckart said. “Part of it is trying to draw attention to the fact that we are able and wanting to assist.”
Vice President for Enrollment Management Ellen Johnson worked with Eckart and personnel in the marketing and communications department to develop CAP. One of Johnson’s priorities during her one-and-a-half years at Allegheny so far has been assessing all of the college’s financial aid and admissions programs to ensure they provide equitable access.
“We looked at our current student body trends and also that focus on our historical commitment as an institution for over 200 years ensuring we weren’t just an institution that came from upper-class families,” Johnson said.
With a sticker price of $67,406 for the 2022-23 academic year, Johnson said many prospective students who experience financial limitations immediately discount the possibility of attending Allegheny. To address this, Johnson designed CAP with two objectives in mind.
“First, to ensure we were making the college as affordable as possible for students,” Johnson said. “Second, providing more transparency into the financial aid process.”
Johnson said most prospective students from low-income backgrounds do not realize how much financial aid Allegheny offers.
“The reality is, for many of our students who meet this criteria right now, we actually are already providing full tuition in scholarships and grants,” Johnson said. “They didn’t realize it because it wasn’t packaged in a way that made it very transparent.”
In this way, Johnson sees CAP as a way to increase publicity around already-existing Allegheny financial aid packages.
Because Allegheny has already been covering much of low-income students’ tuition, Johnson said CAP will not place a new financial burden on the college. For eligible students whose tuition was not already covered, the additional funds will come from donors, friends of the college and the institution.
“We will not be moving scholarships or grant funding from other students into this program, so it is on top of the financial aid that we already award to students,” Johnson said.
Additionally, Johnson expects CAP to benefit low-income students of color who may not have otherwise considered Allegheny a viable option.
“In our outreach promoting this program, we specifically did outreach to some of the community-based organizations that we partner with for student recruitment that specifically work with students of color,” Johnson said. “Definitely this should have a positive impact on our (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) population on campus, but I don’t want to conflate the assumption that those are the same students always as well.”
Meanwhile, Eckart said the proportion of students of color benefiting from CAP was not a central focus in relation to the initiative of the program.
“Our focus was just high-need individuals in general,” Eckart said. “I suppose you could see a byproduct of that in a lot of different ways.”
Cam Lesher, ’24, would have qualified for CAP during all of his time at Allegheny, but said that despite his low-income status, Allegheny did not provide him with sufficient financial aid prior to the recent implementation of the program.
“I’m really frustrated because of all the narratives that I had been given about the financial situation of the college and the almost inability for them to provide me with anything,” Lesher said. “I remember, probably, the meeting before last with financial aid, I was expressing my expected family contribution is $0 and (Allegheny) is not even close to that. And the response was that the college doesn’t have an endowment that is sufficient to cover EFC.”
Lesher is also a member of the Bonner Program and said there are frequent discussions among participants about financial limitations and not being able to afford an Allegheny education. Lesher said every single student he’s known who dropped out of Allegheny would have qualified for CAP.
“For this to come about … it feels like, well, how long was I being lied to and where was this information earlier?” Lesher said.
There are approximately 100 current students who qualify for CAP, and Johnson said she hopes to enroll 50 first-years who qualify for the program in the 2023-24 academic year. There is currently no limit to the number of students who can enroll and benefit from CAP funding, and Johnson said Allegheny still plans to commit to a need-blind admissions process.
“If it really jumpstarts at a higher level than we would anticipate, maybe at some point we’d have to consider that, but at this time we don’t have a cap in place,” Eckart said.
Students who qualify for CAP are still expected to pay room and board and mandatory fees, which Eckart said add up to an average of $14,456 for the 2022-23 academic year. She said students have options for how to pay this sum, including taking out federal or private loans and receiving outside scholarships. Johnson hopes CAP will be of significant help for students struggling to afford higher education.
“We’re really excited about the program,” Johnson said. “I think it should have some really great benefits for our current students and future Allegheny students as well.”
Despite his history with Allegheny’s financial aid office, Lesher agreed CAP is a step in the right direction.
“I am completely happy with what they have done,” Lesher said. “It’s just a lot of frustration within me and happiness for the future and sadness that it wasn’t here two years ago.”