When Mitt Romney ran for President last year, he proudly announced in the Presidential debates that as governor of Massachusetts he had instituted a scholarship which provided free tuition to state schools for all eligible students, and I wanted to yell through the television, “Don’t you believe it!” (I’m an independent, by the way.)
The scholarship in question is the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship which is offered to Massachusetts students who score in the proficient and advanced ranges of the grade ten MCAS tests, have combined scores which place them in the top 25% of their district, and attend state schools. This is actually a good chunk of children, and if sending them all to state schools tuition-free sounds to good to be true, that’s because there’s a little “fuzzy math” involved. I know because two of my children have been eligible for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship.
First of all, the phrase “tuition-free” doesn’t mean a student gets a full ride because the price of room and board is not included. It’s okay if you thought it was, it’s a rookie mistake we all make in the beginning of our careers as the parents of college students. The John and Abigail Adams Scholarship also does not include fees, and that is where the confusion lies.
If you’ve looked at typical tuition rates for private colleges they generally break down into a larger tuition number and a series of smaller fees. Boston College, for instance, lists its 2013 tuition as $41,480 with mandatory fees totaling $724 and a one-time fee of $450.
Massachusetts state schools, however, do just the opposite, the tuition is listed as a low figure with astronomically higher fees attached. Bridgewater State University, for example, lists a tuition of $910 with fees of $7,142 for a total of $8,052. With the Adams Scholarship, only the $910 would be waived.
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the state’s flagship school, breaks down its per semester tuition like this:
- Tuition: $857.00
- Curriculum fee: $4,707.00
- Service fee: $675.00
- Activities fee: $48.00
- Basic Health fee: $327.00
- TOTAL: $6,615.00
The John and Abigail Adams Scholarship would cover only the $857 portion of this state school’s bill. Now, don’t get me wrong, all money is good money and I would happily accept the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, I just don’t like the feeling that I’m being misled and I would caution other parents that this scholarship is not the treasure chest it initially sounds to be.
Where Massachusetts state schools’ students probably get the most bang for their buck out of the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship is in the Community College system. Tuition rates are the lowest in these schools and students generally commute so there aren’t any room and board fees to pay.
So, while Mr. Romney was being technically truthful about the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, there needs to be a giant asterisk attached to the word “tuition” in the phrase “tuition-free”. And while we’re on the subject of asterisks, there are two specialized state colleges that do not accept the scholarship – The Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Diane Thomas is one of the newest members of the StudentAdvisor team. She is the mother two college graduates, two college students, and one high school student searching for a college. Diane is an alumna of Boston University’s College of Communications, and also works part-time as a newspaper photographer.