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At UWRF, scholarships make the difference in recruiting strong students

Falcon News Service

September 28, 2016

UW-River Falls has a reputation as one of the more affordable schools in the UW System. It’s being made even more so for incoming freshmen through the Scholarship Guarantee program.

The idea for the program was announced last fall and used as a recruitment tactic to get the largest class of freshmen the university has seen in a number of years. Regardless of their financial needs, students accepted to UWRF who achieved a score of 22 or higher on the ACT, or who rank in the top 40 percent of their high school class, are automatically given a $1,000 scholarship for their first year of school. Students with a 25 or higher are awarded a $2,000 scholarship for both their freshman and sophomore years at UWRF.

Beth Schommer, executive assistant to the chancellor, said the program was developed to start changing the academic profile of students at UWRF, as well as to alleviate some budget issues.

“We realized that one of the most important ways we could help solve budget issues would be to encourage bigger recruitment efforts and enrollment,” Schommer said. “Based on data from admissions, scholarships make a difference. Keeping it affordable and accessible is important, especially to the students we’re trying to recruit. This is getting students to consider River Falls.

“One of the components is trying to impact the metrics related to our strategic plan,” Schommer added. “Improving the academic profile of the university. A lot of schools, in trying to recruit more students might say, ‘OK, we’ll bring in the 17s and 18s ACTs.’ But what happens? Those people might not be ready for college, they maybe don’t have the mechanisms to succeed and you lost them after the first year. Whereas, trying to focus on academic profile means getting students who are better prepared, more equipped to succeed. We’ve raised the percentage of 25 and higher ACT scores by 25 percent.”

A little more than half of the students offered these scholarships enrolled at UWRF this fall. A total of 301 received the $1,000 Academic Achievement Award, and 240 received the $2,000 Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

“When we talked to admissions about this, the question was really, does $1,000 make a difference?” Schommer said. “And the answer that we heard pretty resoundingly is that, yeah, it does. Students look at two or three schools they’ve been accepted at, and that $1,000 could be the difference maker.”

That’s rang true for freshman Anna Broll. The biomedical sciences major said getting a scholarship made a difference in her decision to come to UWRF.

“If the university offers you grants and scholarships, that’s important because that’s money you wouldn’t have to pay. It brings the total price down,” Broll said. “I got accepted to another school and they offered me more in scholarships, but it was still more expensive than UWRF.”

Karissa Ferguson, a journalism major, said that getting a scholarship influenced her decision, too.

“People like to say that money doesn’t matter, but it does,” Ferguson said. “It’s a fairly big investment, college, so I would say that it does matter, how much you can offset the price.”

The program is still in a pilot phase, but Schommer said that it will hopefully become self sustaining after a couple years. Right now, the program is being funded through UW System one-time funds and institutional reserves.

“Dipping into our already very limited reserve fund was decided, because we believe strongly that this is an investment,” Schommer said. “The more students we recruit and retain, the bottom line increases with tuition dollars.

“We’re continuing to monitor the program and being cautious in demonstrating self sustainability, so we’re hoping to kind of seed fund this investment with institutional dollars and see where we’re at in two to three years.”

For now, the program is planned to continue for next year’s freshman class. Schommer said that in the end, making UWRF an accessible and exceptional institution drives the decision to offer these scholarships.

“At the end of the day, this institution is student centered,” Schommer said. “That’s really what it comes down to. I think the administration, from the chancellor on down, cares about the students, providing access to higher ed for as many students as possible. The fact is that some students can’t succeed at the rate they hoped to because they’re working three jobs to try and pay for their education, so this idea of providing an institutionally guaranteed scholarship to students who are at that level just makes sense.”