This story was originally published on Dec. 9, 2014, in the
Log Cabin Democrat
By Brandon Riddle
Joining some of the top private higher education institutions in the U.S., Hendrix
College has launched a program to meet 100 percent of the financial need of Arkansas
students, starting with freshmen entering in fall 2015.
A first for an institution in Arkansas and one of few in the south to offer such
a program, Hendrix hopes the financial aid assistance will be a recruiting tool
for prospective Arkansas students.
Bill Tsutsui, president of Hendrix, said the program began with an evaluation
of how the college can stay true to the “spirit of the school” when establishing
a form of increased affordability.
“More and more, like at so many colleges around the country, increasingly we’re
seeing kids from the suburbs and kids with significant financial needs going to
college here,” he said.
Central to the program’s mission is the belief that prospective Arkansas high
school students shouldn’t be afraid to consider Hendrix as their institution of
choice during their college application process.
“I’m just hopeful that this will give Arkansas families another option,” he said.
“Hendrix might not be right for everybody, but you don’t want to write it off without
giving it a chance.”
Connecting more with the college’s Arkansas roots is part of ongoing Hendrix
branding strategy discussions.
“As Hendrix rose to become a national institution, perhaps that relationship
got a little more strained,” Tsutsui said. “We still are a national institution.
We still are going to be recruiting people from around the country and around the
world, but we want to be sure that we serve our backyard as we have for over 100
Financial need will be addressed through merit scholarships, need-based grants,
federal and state grants, federal student loans and student employment.
The Hendrix Arkansas Advantage requires a 3.6 high school GPA and an ACT score
of 27 or an SAT score of at least 1200, excluding writing.
To participate in Hendrix’s program, Karen Foust, vice president for enrollment,
said prospective freshmen must complete three application steps – admission, federal
financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and state
aid through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s YOUniversal Financial
Kristina Burford, director of financial aid, said the FAFSA will determine the
expected family contribution in fulfilling the financial needs of students.
“There is not a limitation to the family contribution,” she said. “It is going
to be just if the student demonstrates financial need.”
Before this program, about 85 percent of financial need was addressed for all
“The difference with what the Advantage program is going to bring is that, if
there has been a gap between what we offered in terms of financial aid and the demonstrated
need, then that’s when the institution is going to meet that difference,” Foust
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the statewide average
for students with debt is 55 percent. Average student debt in Arkansas is $25,375,
based on the data that includes public and private four-year institutions.
In comparison, 43 percent of 2014 Hendrix students graduated with an average
debt of $22,658, according to the college’s Office of Financial Aid website.
This fall, 1,358 students were enrolled at Hendrix, with 338 of those being freshmen.
That total number is a 5 percent decline from fall 2013 when 1,432 total students
Sixty-six private institutions and three public schools across the nation, according
to the College Board, meet 100 percent of financial need.
The Hendrix program, Tsutsui said, is another step in the “social escalator”
to build the college and Arkansas up, placing higher education values as a priority
while chipping away at negative statistics about state graduate rates.
“I feel the institutions in the state really need to be creative in finding ways
to bring education within the reach of all Arkansas families,” he said. “Obviously,
in the big picture, this Hendrix initiative is a small step but my sense is that
the independent colleges in the state understand that – they understand how hard
families are having to work right now and hopefully we’ll see more programs like
this in the future.”
Rex Nelson, president of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities (AICU),
said Hendrix’s program helps remove the notion that a private education is out of
AICU represents 11 private accredited schools in Arkansas, including Hendrix
College and Central Baptist College.
“Perception is really not reality,” he said. “One of the things that you have
to understand is that at the private schools, a far higher percentage get a degree
within four years which is better than stretching out an education over a number
Nelson noted the “tremendous impact” that the Hendrix Arkansas Advantage program
will have starting next fall.
“Anything our colleges and universities can do to encourage the best and brightest
is only going to be a positive,” he said.
Referencing the 2010 U.S. Census, Nelson pointed to Arkansas’ place as next to
last in percentage of graduates with a bachelor’s degree.
“One reason I took this job, is that I felt that changing the stat of low college
degree holders is the most important public policy issue facing higher education,”
He is also the father of a current Hendrix student, senior Austin Nelson.
Tsutsui said the financial implications of the Hendrix Arkansas Advantage program
were significant to consider during the development process.
“This is not going to be a cheap proposition for the college but it’s an important
one, so we wanted to run the numbers,” he said.
Tsutsui said he would welcome any donor who could help make expanding the program
to more than state students an option for Hendrix financially.
“I would really love to be able to extend the program to all kids around the
country and around the world with talent and give them the opportunity to come to
Hendrix but, as it worked out, what we really could afford at this point is to reach
our core audience,” he said.
A new financial aid team at Hendrix that started this fall evaluated the options
the college had in reaching more students in need of financial assistance.
“We looked at a lot of things,” Tsutsui said, adding that full need, offering
no loan packages and four-year tuition guarantees were part of the discussion.
In the end, Hendrix felt addressing full need was the best route to go in helping
out Arkansas students.
Full need incorporates tuition, fees, textbooks and monetary help for travel.
The 2014 breakdown of student costs at Hendrix for a year is: $38,990 for tuition,
$300 in fees, $5,618 for room and $5,294 for board/meals.
That amounts to a total yearly cost of $50,202, with about $33,116 on average
in yearly student aid.
Some colleges and institutions included in the College Board data meet all financial
aid without the help of student loans.
“[At Hendrix, our program] really was based on the bottom line, what we could
afford,” Tsutsui said. “I would love to have packages for families that have no
loans in them, but if you look at other schools that are doing this program, places
like Vanderbilt, the vast majority of them still rely on students taking those loans
that are available through the state and federal government to make education possible.”
Once a student is in the Hendrix Arkansas Advantage program, the student can
remain qualified if they are on good standing, Tsutsui said.
“This is not adding any new level of requirements to students,” he said.
Outside of Hendrix, state and federal aid programs may still require additional
guidelines for students to remain qualified for their financial assistance.
Hendrix’s efforts in addressing financial need, notably among the most significant
for an institution, is part of a statewide trend in helping young college students
obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Other higher education institutions in Arkansas have launched aid programs, including
Central Baptist College in Conway and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
Both institutions provide assistance through loan repayment programs – the Mustang
Advantage Program and the Loan Affordability Pledge, respectively.
(Staff writer Brandon Riddle can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
by phone at 505-1215 or on Twitter @BrandonCRiddle. To comment on this and other
stories in the Log Cabin, log on to thecabin.net. Send us your news at thecabin.net/submit)