Dream Weber-A Model for Improving College Access and Completion

The rising cost of education is killing college dreams for many Americans. 

Colleges across the country have increased tuition and fees due to sharp reductions in state funding and subsidies since the Great Recession. Spending cuts in state budgets hit higher education especially hard, in some cases doubling the student’s share of tuition.

This trend has also been felt in Utah. When Utah’s economy derailed between 2007 and 2013, legislators cut funding for higher education, Utah’s public colleges hiked tuition, and college costs rose. The consequence of a steady decline in state support for higher education, coupled with significant increases in enrollment, is that the average Utah college student now pays $1,131 more per year than they were at the beginning of the recession, while the state is supporting the average student with $1,513 (24%) less.

Compounding this is the fact that Utah is one of the lowest in the country in state need-based aid per student. According to data from 2011-2012, Utah provides only $50 in state aid per full time equivalent undergraduate student, far below the national average of $482. College is simply not affordable for growing numbers of Utah residents.

A Utah Solution: 

The Dream Weber program at Weber State University (WSU) is helping those least able to afford college. Dream Weber provides opportunities for low-income students to complete their education without worrying about tuition. Dream Weber combines need-based aid with performance metrics, propelling students toward college completion by tying student aid to course loads, grades, etc. It’s modeled after a Texas program and is the first of its kind in Utah. Expanding this program at WSU and at other public colleges will help Utah students enroll in–and complete–college.

Living the Dream: 

Dream Weber started in 2010 providing free tuition to students with annual household incomes less than or equal to $25,000. The eligibility cutoff amount increased to $27,000 in 2012, and to its current amount of $40,000 in 2014, covering many more students.

HigherEdUtah2020 2014 reported the Dream Weber program allowed 755 students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and 799 to graduate with an associate’s degree since 2010. Applications for 2013-2014 increased by 82% over 2012-2013. Eligible applicants increased 38% in 2013-2014 as compared to 2012-2013.

Funding Dream Weber: 

Private donations are backing the success of this program, including donations for scholarships for underserved and financially needy populations and covering gaps in funding between tuition and federal and state aid. With the use of federal and state aid and a $2 million anonymous donation, the program is currently funding 1,400 students, and has the potential for a lot more. WSU is actively campaigning for more donations to help students dream of a better future, with an education.

Expand Dream Weber to Take Utah to a Top Ten State: Utah’s future prosperity relies on a well-educated workforce because many oftomorrow’s jobs will require postsecondary degrees and certificates. Statewide goals articulated in Prosperity through Education call for increased investment to make higher education affordable for middle and lower income families and students. Dream Weber can serve as a model for decision-makers developing strategic plans for higher education.

Read More about WSU’s Dream Weber Program at http://www.weber.edu/dreamweber and at Prosperity2020.com