It’s a lofty ambition, but then again the college is named “Hope,” not “Settle.”
Hope College’s new strategy for fully funding tuition aims to change lives forever.
The college’s new Hope Forward initiative seeks to fully fund tuition for every student up front. While that’s the most tangible goal, it’s only one of several.
“The whole world is asking why college has gotten so expensive,” said President Matthew A. Scogin ’02. “What if Hope could take the lead in solving that puzzle?”
“We’re excited to be pursuing a new model for funding higher education,” he said. “Rather than require students to pay for their education in advance, through what too often feels like a transactional relationship, we are working toward a funding model based on the biblical principles of generosity and gratitude. Once it’s implemented, students will receive a transformational education funded by the generosity of others. Then, when they are graduates, we will ask them — out of gratitude for what they’ve received — to be generous in response by investing in future generations of students.”
Announced in July and unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees, the college-wide strategy is built on a foundation of three pillars: accessibility, generosity and community. Reflective of the three pillars, Hope’s new tuition model uses a unique “pay-it-forward” approach. Participating students will receive a Hope College education with tuition fully funded by the generous gifts of others, and pay only for room and board. During their four years at Hope, students will explore gratitude, both as a beneficiary of others’ generosity and as generous givers themselves. When, as alumni, they give to Hope after graduation, they will become part of a continuum of generational support for the students of the future.
“By eliminating the need for students to finance their education up front, we’re pursuing a number of goals as a college community,” Scogin said. “First, tied to our Christian mission, we want to make a Hope education available to all students. Second, we believe the business model of higher education is broken and we want to pursue a more sustainable framework. Finally, we want to enable our graduates to enter their careers and communities with a focus on positively impacting the world unburdened by tuition debt. This vision will take many years to see to fruition, but the journey starts now and we are encouraged by early momentum.”
Hope Forward may sound a bit like “free tuition,” but that’s not quite it. It’s a subtle change in phrasing, but the concept is more accurately described as “tuition-free.” In other words, the aspiration is for Hope to no longer rely on tuition revenue at all.
“College can never truly be free. It will always be very expensive. The question is who should pay for it,” Scogin said. “When politicians talk about free tuition, what they’re really talking about is taxpayers funding tuition without really changing the model of higher ed. We’re talking about a different funding model entirely.”
“At the end of the day, this is about the founding aspirations of our institution: to be a place that competes academically with the best schools in the world, to be a place that’s also decidedly Christian, and to be a place that can attract the most talented, promising students who are excited about our mission — and let them come here without any financial barriers to being here,” he said.
In Their Own Words
As explained in more detail in the accompanying story, Hope Forward is a distinctive model for fully funding tuition so that students can pursue impact instead of incurring debt and needing to chase income. Rather than require students to pay for their own degrees, the approach will ask them to contribute to the college after they graduate to support those who follow. It will be some years before the program reaches every student (increasing the endowment is a crucial part of the mix), but thanks to a generous gift the first 22 will be enrolled this fall. Some of their reflections are highlighted on these pages, showing the impact that Hope Forward not only can have but is having, and how its foundational values of accessibility, generosity and community inspire.
“This [Hope Forward] would make my dreams of going to college true. It motivates me to do the best that I can knowing that the Hope community believes in me and my dreams. It makes me want to give over 100%.”
Reclaiming a Vision
Hope Forward is a new — even revolutionary — approach to funding tuition (as best the college has been able to determine, no one else is doing it). At the same time, in a sense it’s reclaiming something that’s been in Hope’s DNA since the beginning.
Consider, for example, the following statement from the Hope College Catalog in 1866, the year that Hope was chartered. Although tuition was $12 (remember, it was 1866), the publication states that tuition was “subject to a system of exemptions through benevolent contributions,” and that “no youth desirous of an education, yet not having the means to meet the expense will be turned from the doors of the institution on that account.”
By 1907, even the $12 charge was gone: “The aim constantly kept in mind is to provide at Hope College everything necessary to a broad liberal education at the lowest possible cost. There are no regular tuition fees.”
Tuition fees had long since returned by 1976, but the priority as expressed by then-President Gordon Van Wylen was the same: “Our goal is to make a Hope College education available to every student who is admitted, regardless of the student’s financial resources… We must therefore have the lowest possible tuition.”
Scogin first shared his vision for fully funding tuition during his inauguration on Sept. 13, 2019. He noted that the nationally ubiquitous dynamic of annually raising tuition puts college ever-more out of reach for many, an outcome that he hopes to see eliminated here. “The opportunity to be transformed by Hope should not be dependent on a family’s net worth or what zip code a student grows up in,” he said during his address. “Being transformed by Hope should not come with a price tag.”
Given the possibilities opened to those with a college degree, he emphasizes that removing barriers to attending Hope is also a way that the college can play a greater role in the pursuit of justice.
“Studies show that attending college is — or can be — the great equalizer,” he said. “For example, Raj Chetty of Harvard University has found that students from low-income backgrounds and high-income backgrounds who attend the same college have remarkably similar earnings after they graduate. That means attending college is the key to solving income inequality.”
“However, a large portion of low-income students don’t attend colleges they are qualified for,” Scogin said. “A primary reason is the ‘sticker shock’ of the high tuition price. Even if they’re eligible for high financial aid, it’s the high price tag that deters them from even applying.”
“It’s very exciting that the college I’ve fallen in love with is actively trying to fix the high cost of college.”
Hope Forward reflects the biblical message that everything which humans possess is a gift from God. Among other passages, it echoes 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, which stresses generosity and gratitude in response.
“It’s a model that for us at Hope is uniquely aligned with our values,” Scogin said. “We are a Christian college and the God we serve says over and over again in the Bible that He blesses giving in a way that He won’t necessarily bless paying the bills.
“And of course, it’s freeing up our students to pursue positive impact unburdened by tuition debt,” he said. “Hope Forward is so beautifully built around the center of the Gospel, which says, ‘You are covered. Now, go and live differently.’”
It’s perspective that will be made explicit as the students who benefit from Hope Forward prepare for the lives they will lead after Hope. They will examine their sense of God-given purpose and calling as a lifelong member of the Hope community and as a leader in the global community.
Combine the importance today of earning a college degree with the high cost to acquire one, and the nature of the community cannot help but be affected — and not in a good way. “I think it’s toxic for higher education to have a transactional relationship with students,” Scogin said. “Students essentially become customers who pay for a service.”
Hope Forward seeks to realize a different vision, one that hews more closely to the reason that institutions of higher education were established in the first place: to serve as communities of teacher-mentors and students committed to learning. Given the rapidly changing demands of the workplace in the 21st century, Hope will also continue to emphasize that alumni remain a part of that community.
“Hope Forward transforms the relationship between the student and the college,” Scogin said. “Instead of a transactional relationship where students pay their bills and receive a degree in return, students become part of a learning community to which they are connected for the rest of their lives.”
“Lifelong learning, in today’s world of rapid change, has never been more important,” he said. “With this model, students sign up to attend college, not just for four years — rather, they are signing up for a lifelong relationship.”
“If we could simply try to fix our eyes on the needs of others — speaking, observing, and acting with sincere intentions — then perhaps we can bring hope to our community; by rejecting bitterness when it tries to make a home in our hearts, and working hard to love others well while we can.”
Fully realizing Hope Forward will require several years and is being pursued via the largest comprehensive fundraising effort in the college’s history. While it will be sustained by gifts, it will also rely on income from the endowment to offset the tuition revenue that provides much of the college’s annual operating funding. Hope estimates that the endowment will need to increase by an additional $1.2 billion (from its current level of $284 million) for Hope Forward to support the entire student body of 3,000-plus students.
Fortunately, and crucially, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Hope Forward will be implemented in phases as fundraising proceeds.
All college fundraising, including capital campaigns, will support the Hope Forward strategy. A primary driver of the fundraising will be a robust affinity-based giving program, which will allow donors to give to what they love and in turn help build budget-relieving endowments that will strengthen the college’s financial foundation.
“Think of the entire college budget as a big pie. We will try to endow each individual piece of the pie, and as we do so we will no longer be dependent on tuition revenue to fund the budget,” Scogin said.
“As I consider what I want to study, I am looking into careers that will help others after I graduate. I am hoping to pursue getting an education certificate in order to teach in a high-need school system, using the training I receive in college and my own experiences in order to help underprivileged groups (such as inner-city high school students or newly arrived immigrants) to grow and excel.”
In addition, gifts from Hope Forward alumni will increasingly play a role as ever-larger cohorts graduate. Students who benefit from Hope Forward enroll knowing why their support in the future will be essential in the initiative’s continued success. Although they will sign a commitment, they are not being asked to commit to a specific amount or percentage of their income.
“We want it to feel like a gift, not paying a bill,” Scogin said. “The more prescriptive we get, the more it would feel like paying a bill, which then starts to feel like another flavor of student debt.”
Alongside the drive to fund Hope Forward, Hope will continue to invest in its academic and co-curricular programs and physical plant. The college has also held tuition at the same level for the past two years and invested more than $1 million each year in scholarships as benefits to all students even as Hope Forward becomes phased in.
Because of the current endowment and annual gifts to the college, it is already the case that no student pays the full cost of a Hope education. Hope Forward will be building on that foundation.
Hope anticipates adjusting the implementation based on experience, but at the outset the plan is this: In the initial stages, the college will enroll cohorts of students with fully funded tuition, increasing the number as endowment income becomes available. Once approximately 25% to 30% of students are fully supported, Hope intends to gradually reduce tuition for all students.
“The concept (i.e. … someone paying for my experience and education) is making generational change which is why I wanted to apply and be a part of this.”
The Future Is Now
Donors have already contributed more than $31.1 million in support of the Hope Forward tuition funding model, and the college (including this publication) will highlight some of those gifts and their impact in the months and years ahead. First up: An anonymous donor has provided $5 million to enable the inaugural 22 students to enroll this fall and to support a second cohort starting in the fall of 2022, with the funding continuing through graduation for each of these two groups.
In addition to receiving financial support, these pilot cohorts will be part of programming that is designed specifically for them with an emphasis on how the values embodied in Hope Forward can play out not only during their time as students but in their lives as leaders and agents of change in the years to come. During their four years, the cohort will attend seminars, take a course together, and participate in retreats and service-learning. As pilot participants, they will also help shape the model’s implementation in the future, giving Hope a chance to learn and assess in the early stages of the Hope Forward journey.
Staff member Nicole Dunteman is program director of Hope Forward. In her new role, she is building on time at the college that has included serving as resident director in Dykstra Hall for four years, and as a member of the college’s COVID-19 response team this past year, as well as prior experience in diversity, equity and inclusion programming; the first-year experience; and civic engagement and leadership development.
The students in the first Hope Forward cohort are from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, with approximately 50% non-white and 30% from abroad. As part of their application process, Dunteman explained, they were asked to reflect on areas of need in the world, and the difference that Hope Forward and Hope will make to them — and in turn enable them to make for others. Their responses (a few excerpts from which are shared with permission across these pages) show a group determined to make the most of the opportunity and eager to have an impact.
“These students have big hearts and big dreams, and the best part is, none of their dreams are about themselves,” she said. “A Hope education and college experience will not only change their lives, but the lives of those they touch.”
“The ‘give what you have mentality’ is so important because everyone will be at different points in the future or in their lives. The Hope Forward initiative will remind me in my future and my future field that others are the main focus. We do this for others — to help someone, to better someone, to support others. Hope Forward inspires you to receive what you need, then give it away.”
Please visit the college online for more about Hope Forward, including additional background and videos that present more detail about the initiative and updates.