Eugene Scott, The Arizona Republic
April 4, 2006
Section: VALLEY & State, Page: B1

*Article reprinted with permission from the Arizona Republic.*

Arizona State University is being hailed as the first college in the West to jump on a trend of offering a free education to low-income students.In 2001, Princeton University became the first university to implement such a program, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill became the first public university to offer a similar program in 2003.

This year, Arizona State rolled out ASU Advantage. The university's growing size -- it now is the nation's largest university -- along with the demographics of the student body helped inspire the program.

"Any program that can target low-income students catches our attention, because we want to see if those sort of initiatives can work here," said Craig Fennell, ASU director of student financial assistance.

ASU Advantage is for Arizonans from households in which the family income is $18,850, the federal poverty level, or less. Applicants must meet all normal ASU admissions standards, but the program takes care of all direct costs such as tuition, fees, room, board and books.

Despite attempts to make ASU affordable, Fennell said many prospective students have not applied, possibly assuming they could never afford the cost of the education. He said the program is designed to "help them get the message that they can do it."

David Calderon, a freshman from Phoenix , said he wouldn't be in college if it weren't for ASU Advantage.

The bioengineering major was at freshman orientation last summer when he heard about the program. Although he had registered for a full load of classes, Calderon was planning to drop some so that he could work to earn money to for college.

His mother attended a parent session during the orientation and found out about the program.

"Now, I have more time to study since I don't have to go through college focusing on putting food on the table," he said. "It just lets me focus more on my college education, and it makes me a better student overall."

Richard Kahlenberg, author of America 's Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education, said ASU Advantage is the best way to tap into students like Calderon, for their sake as well as a university's.

"Otherwise, we're losing out on that talent. One of the striking things is that some of the highly capable low-income students aren't going to any college at all, much less Harvard or Yale, so its important for society to take advantage of all the talent that is there that we're not seeing utilized," he said.

Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a New York City-based public policy think tank, said programs that increase economic diversity help spark a long-ignored discussion about inequality in higher education.

More than 280 students benefited from ASU Advantage this year, and Fennell said ASU hopes to assist more students next year and has no plans to put a cap on the program.

More students probably could have benefited from the program this year, Fennell said, but a significant number of ASU students don't complete the necessary forms to receive financial aid.

SU's program, like many others, comes from traditional financial-aid resources, but officials said they welcome any private sources that may want to fund the program.

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