A gift to the University of Baltimore from billionaire alumnus Bob Parsons will allow community college students and military veterans to finish their degree for free, the university announced Monday.
Parsons’s $5 million gift over five years will bridge the gap between what a Pell Grant covers and the university’s remaining tuition and fees. It is the largest-ever gift dedicated solely to scholarships that the university has received.
“This will essentially close the tuition gap for students, that is, our graduates of community college who are eligible to receive a federal Pell Grant,” said Kurt L. Schmoke, the university’s president. “Essentially for qualified graduates of the community college, they will be able to complete their bachelor’s degree for free.”
Parsons is the billionaire founder of the website domain registration company GoDaddy. He has previously given to the university to help establish the Bob Parsons Veterans Center. His total giving to the university, through his Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, now totals $7 million.
The University of Baltimore enrolled 1,470 full-time students in fall 2018, the most recent year for which full federal data is available. About 70% of University of Baltimore students have transferred from a community college, Schmoke said.
At a UB press conference Monday, the presidents of Baltimore-area community colleges identified financial hardship as a significant barrier for students who want to complete their associate’s degree and move on to a four-year institution. Students experience sticker shock from the difference in tuition between a community college and even a modestly priced four-year institution like the University of Baltimore.
Moreover, even the Pell Grant program — a federal grant for students with financial need — does not cover all of the tuition at UB. The grant covers $6,100 of the university’s $9,500 annual tuition, Schmoke said.
“The majority of our students are on Pell and … it is certainly an opportunity, but it is always a hardship knowing when they leave us, where (are) those other opportunities to fill those voids and those gaps,” said Debra L. McCurdy, president of Baltimore City Community College. “This is going to make a tremendous difference for our students moving on.”
The University of Baltimore scholarship will be for students who are eligible for the Pell Grant and who are enrolled full-time at the University of Baltimore to earn their first bachelor’s degree. They must also meet the requirements to qualify for Maryland in-state tuition rates and must be transferring to UB after having earned an associate’s degree. They could also be veterans transferring with 60 or more credits (the equivalent of an associate’s degree) from another institution.
Enrolling students who have completed their associate’s degree is one way that universities hope to stem projected enrollment declines as the generation of college-aged students shrinks.
The University System of Maryland has identified these students as an important part of its future, said Jay A. Perman, the system’s chancellor, at the UB press conference Monday.
“I think if we can facilitate transfers once people get an A.A. degree, or if they haven’t completed, to four-year colleges, there isn’t going to be any enrollment problem,” Perman said. “Yes, the birth rate is going down. We need to do everything we can to make it easier for people to come from community colleges. We need to make it easier for people in the workforce to come back and complete their degree. And we need to hold onto students who are struggling. Then there won’t be any enrollment problem.”
Another challenge for students transferring from community colleges can be matching up the coursework they have already completed with requirements at their four-year institutions. The universities are working on making sure those courses are a better match so students can transfer as smoothly as possible, Perman said.
Overcoming those two barriers — the financial and academic differences between two-year and four-year institutions — is critical to the two-plus-two higher education path, said Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County.
“Our community colleges in Maryland are all great partners of our four-year institutions. But we are working hard to solidify transfer relationships that go as smoothly as possible, both academically and financially,” she said. “Two-plus-two isn’t any good if you can only do two and can’t get to the other two.”