By Danny Green
According to the U.S. Census, in 2019, the median household income for families from York County was $66,500 and $34,000 for households in York City. It’s not surprising, then, that fewer residents feel that a college education is within their reach. But higher education is and remains an investment in America’s future — and York County’s future.
While research indicates that a college education can have a massive positive impact on a graduate’s finances, college costs and student debt are major factors for families when they consider sending their students to college.
Meanwhile, the higher education industry is very conscious of the demographic changes experienced in the northeast and looming nationwide. The number of high school graduates is predicted to decline by 9% through 2037, and the composition of these graduates will be increasingly diverse. Additionally, many of these high school graduates will be first-generation college students and some will come from less financially strong families.
With this shift in demographics, colleges and universities must turn their focus away from the shrinking number of affluent white students toward the growing number of Hispanic, Black and Asian American students who might be questioning whether a four-year degree is a financially viable option for them.
No one would argue against the ideal that all students who are well prepared by their high school experience deserve access to a four-year degree regardless of their background or circumstances of their family, including wealth. But finances remain a major barrier to matriculation.
With the true economic toll of the pandemic still unknown, colleges and universities must do more to make higher education affordable and accessible to all, but especially to those for whom a four-year degree could be life changing. The best way to change any opinion that a four-year degree isn’t as worth it anymore is to make the offerings of four-year institutions more affordable, while upholding educational quality and value.
The call for debt-free and tuition-free education isn’t going away, and so York College of Pennsylvania is leaning in.
The new York College Promise program is designed to expand access to education especially for under‐resourced students from York County. Beyond being designed for students who come from families that, without assistance, would not be able to attend a four‐year private college, this program will help drive economic growth in the county by producing skilled, entrepreneurial graduates with experience in community service.
While one of the key benefits of the York College Promise program is free tuition, just as important are the elements of the program that ensure the cohort of students participating will thrive on a college campus through graduation. The cohort model is essential to assisting students, not only in navigating the complexities of a university and academic programs, but also to allow for the personal attention and sense of belonging students need to be successful. If a student is excelling, then she should be challenged to strive higher; if a student needs assistance, then he should be connected with the resources and services needed for success.
Additionally, these students will have opportunities to support each other as peer mentors and to work together on projects inside and outside the classroom. We will also ensure that students have opportunities for service as well as to bond with other students through their disciplines of study. We understand that those students who participate in programs like the Promise program value the experiences most when they are investing in themselves. Participants will live on campus and have opportunities for campus work.
To keep out-of-pocket expenses as low as possible, students will access federal and state need-based assistance, which helps cover nearly all of the other costs of attendance.
York College is among few independent or private institutions across the country offering a “free tuition” program to enhance access and economic development in home counties. What this program can do is produce a cadre of graduates who will likely remain in their local community and become the next community economic drivers.
Some of these students will blaze a trail as the first in their family to graduate college. Graduates of this program will have the skills and credentials to be even stronger, more fully engaged citizens in our communities. The success of this program is a long‐term opportunity to improve our own communities, and York College has made a strong commitment to its local community. We challenge other institutions to do the same.
Danny Green is vice president for enrollment management at York College of Pennsylvania.