Howard University Pays Out Its First Tuition Rebates to Students Graduating On-Time

Posted By Eliana Osborn on May 13, 2016 at 1:33 pm
Howard University Pays Out Its First Tuition Rebates to Students Graduating On-Time

When President Obama gave the graduation address at Howard University recently, it overshadowed some other exciting news from the school. A program, launched in 2015, to provide rebates on final semester tuition for those who finish on time made its first payments to students.

Most financial offers from colleges and universities are up front in the form of scholarships, tuition reductions, and the like, whereas company tuition reimbursement programs are more likely to require you to complete classes, then pay you back a covered portion. Howard University is one of the first campuses to subvert the tuition reimbursement norm to incentivize students to keep pushing right up till graduation.

For spring 2016, over 100 students were paid back 50% of what they paid for the semester. Though to be fair, that isn’t 50% of the total tuition cost for most students; the rebate applies to what students and families paid out-of-pocket. For those covering the full cost, that equates to more than $5,000 returning to bank accounts.

When the plan was initially launched—with full support of the university’s board–$2 million was allocated for rebates. The first round is estimated to have cost about $250,000, according to Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick. At the same time, tuition was frozen at all levels of enrollment, a step toward acknowledging the financial struggle many students are facing.

A recent Washington Post article summarizes Howard President Frederick’s perspective on saving the university money by incentivizing students to graduate on time. “The president considers the rebate program a step towards a sustainable solution for managing the university’s costs. Howard, he said, spends millions of dollars providing grants to students taking five or six years to graduate. Shaving a year or two off the time it takes to earn a degree would be a win for everyone, he said.”

At the state level, Massachusetts recently announced the Commonwealth Commitment (MAComCom), which including a tuition rebate strategy. Part of MAComCom covers transferring from two-year to four-year state schools. Another aspect is a tuition freeze at the starting point, ensuring no surprises while you are pursuing a degree. Finally, each semester a student passes their classes with a 3.0 GPA, they are eligible for a 10% rebate on tuition. Community college completion and transfer rates are low nationwide, so the Massachusetts initiative will be closely watched by other states.

Washington state is targeting nearly graduated students with their Free to Finish program, for those who need 15 or fewer credits to earn a degree but who have been out of classes for several years. Though rather than waiting until students leave school without graduating, Howard University’s tuition rebates may be a way to get students to push through the finish line right from the start.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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