New Tuition Program at Blackburn College Provides for Students With Greatest Financial Need

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Affordable Access Award program is first of its kind in Illinois and addresses national call for affordability and access in higher education.

Dr. John Comerford, 16th President of Blackburn College, announces the innovative Affordable Access Award program on November 4, 2013

We have never shied from this mission. Perhaps because of the work program, there is no compunction here about serving those who cannot afford alternatives.

The mother cried when she learned her daughter would be able to attend college. They had taken the tour, met faculty and staff and were impressed with the college. It was later in the day when they met with the Director of Admissions and had a confession – they did not have much money for college. In fact, they had a $0 Estimated Family Contribution, according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That’s when she learned that her daughter would likely qualify for free tuition. So went the first real explanation of the Affordable Access Program.

Dr. John Comerford, Blackburn College’s 16th President, announced the new Affordable Access Award program during his inaugural address on November 2. This major financial aid program, the first of its kind in Illinois, allows free tuition to Illinois students with the greatest need.

During his address, Dr. Comerford cited three ways that Blackburn College was distinctive. Noting the college’s commitment to residential undergraduate liberal arts education and its 100-year-old, one-of-a-kind student managed work program, he then added that Blackburn is meaningfully different and unique in providing access to higher education for all students.

“We are fortunate in the United States to have the premier system of higher education in the world. 94% of American parents want their kids to go to college,” commented Comerford, “and it’s clear that college remains the top perceived path to financial security. We have much to be proud of, but we’re slipping.”

He went on to point out several facts:

  •     A generation ago, the US was #1 in college degrees held by the 25 to 34 year old population. Today, we’re 12th.
  •     70% of high school grads go immediately on to some form of higher education. Only 25% of students that start college achieve a degree.
  •     In 1980, the average cost of attendance at a four-year college (public and private averaged) was just under $3,500… $8,700 in today’s dollars. Today, the average cost is $22,000. That a 250% increase in constant dollars.
  •     Between 2001 and 2010 the cost of a university education soared from 23% of median annual earnings to 38%.
  •     In 2000, families paid an average 37% of a student’s cost of attendance. Today, just 13 years later, it is less than 27%.
  •     For students from families in the top 20% of incomes, most – 53% - will achieve a bachelor’s degree. For kids from the bottom 20% of family incomes, just 11% will get a degree.
  •     In 1980, 60% of Pell students, students from low income families, were enrolled at four-year college campuses—today it’s just 37%.
  •     Illinois is in the bottom ten states for getting Pell students to four-year campuses. 20 years ago, 40% of public college students where Pell-eligible—today it’s just 30%.

“Low income students are desperate for a college degree, but are increasingly left with few choices. Our colleges have been too caught up in seeking prestige to be bothered to help these students. There is unfortunately no prestige in helping financially needy students.”

“Blackburn has always been different in this regard,” Comerford said. “We have never shied from this mission. Perhaps because of the work program, there is no compunction here about serving those who cannot afford alternatives.”

The Affordable Access Award, or AAA, allows students whose families can offer little or no financial support (as defined by an Estimated Family contribution on the FAFSA of $0) to attend Blackburn without paying tuition. They will earn some of it through the work program, receive Pell and Illinois MAP grants, and the college will take care of the rest.

More information is available at, or by contacting the Blackburn College Office of Admissions at 800-233-3550.

About Blackburn College:

Founded in 1837, Blackburn College is a four-year, Presbyterian-related, co-educational liberal arts college located in Carlinville, Illinois. One of the seven work colleges in the U.S., Blackburn is the only one with a student-managed Work Program. Blackburn was also ranked by US News as the 2012 #2 Best Value College in the Midwest and The Washington Monthly ranked the school as #17 among baccalaureate colleges, nationally, and best in Illinois in 2013. The school remains the most affordable, residential liberal arts college in the state.

Media Contact:

Peter Oswald, Director of Marketing & Public Relations
Blackburn College
217-854-3231, ext. 4336

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Peter Oswald, Director of Marketing & Public Relations
Blackburn College
+1 217-854-3231 Ext: 4336
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