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Ohio State to create debt-free degree with scholarships, work opportunities, grants and financial literacy

University will raise $800 million to support the Scarlet & Gray Advantage program

Scarlet & Gray Advantage

To offer a debt-free bachelor’s degree within a decade, The Ohio State University will raise $800 million for student scholarships; expand job and internship programs that allow students to gain experience while earning a paycheck; provide grant assistance; and extend coaching on financial education, leadership and work skills, President Kristina M. Johnson announced today in her investiture speech.

“At Ohio State, we are building a new pathway to the American dream that will empower students to take control of their financial future,” said Johnson. “Scarlet & Gray Advantage will enable thousands of future Buckeyes the opportunity to earn their degree debt-free.

“With this program, we will help Buckeyes launch their lives after college, whether that means starting a business, buying a home or investing in the success of their communities,” she said.

Students who join Scarlet & Gray Advantage will be active participants in achieving a debt-free degree through a joint commitment with the university. Ohio State will provide financial aid for low- and middle-income students, coupled with work opportunities and programs to help students develop financial literacy for their college years and beyond. Students will be expected to participate in financial literacy programs, take advantage of work opportunities and join a cohort of like-minded students focused on a debt-free education.

Ohio State is a public, land-grant institution with more than 53,000 undergraduate students, so Scarlet & Gray Advantage would be among the largest debt-free programs in higher education. When the program is finalized, entering new first-year students at all Ohio State campuses will have the opportunity to join Scarlet & Gray Advantage as they begin their college careers.

Affordability and student debt are issues of national interest. Across the country, 62% of college graduates in 2019 took out loans to complete their degrees. Today, student loan debt tops $1.5 trillion in the United States, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

At Ohio State, Scarlet & Gray Advantage will build on successful affordability initiatives that have reduced the number of students who borrow and amount of debt for the past few graduating classes. In 2020, less than half (47%) of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt, and these borrowers held $27,133 on average.

The improving trend reflects existing programs that cover the cost of tuition and fees for Pell-eligible students; the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, which promises that tuition, housing and dining costs will not increase for each entering class of in-state residents; and textbook affordability programs that have made free and low-cost learning materials widely available in many large courses.

Ohio State will bring Scarlet & Gray Advantage to scale over the next decade while taking immediate steps that include:

  • Scholarships: To expand financial support for students, Ohio State will raise $800 million, including $500 million in endowments, over the next decade to expand undergraduate scholarships. To help kick off this campaign and enhance the impact of early gifts, the university and lead donors are creating a $50 million pool to match the first $50 million in private donations. Donors who contribute at least $100,000 to endowed funds while the match is available will see their gifts’ impact double in size.
  • Work opportunities: Working with employers throughout the state and country, Ohio State will expand its network of paid job and internship opportunities so that students have more opportunities to earn money, develop job skills and prepare themselves for post-college careers. The university will build on a robust network of relationships, both on campus and with outside employers, to offer work opportunities in a variety of fields.
  • Education and coaching: Scarlet & Gray Advantage students will participate in financial literacy programs, leadership and career counseling, and other programs to enhance their path to success.
  • Pilot program: In Autumn 2022, the university will select 125 new first-year students to be part of a Scarlet & Gray Advantage pilot program that will hone strategies to optimize university services and identify opportunities to further streamline student support. Details about how the cohort will be selected will be determined next year as the incoming class takes shape.

“Scarlet & Gray Advantage will be distinctive in higher education by engaging students in securing their own financial destiny,” said Johnson. “By teaching our students to successfully manage their finances, we will be offering far more than a debt-free degree — we will be turbocharging the next generation of change-makers.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa L. Gilliam noted that concerns about college debt can also discourage some high-school students from attending college, despite studies that show a college degree can add more than $1 million to an individual’s lifetime earnings.

“No one should be deterred from becoming a Buckeye because of their financial situation,” said Gilliam. “We are determined to attract talented students throughout Ohio, the nation and the world to Ohio State, and prepare them to solve problems, identify opportunities and uplift communities when they graduate. This program reflects the power of our land-grant mission.”

Ohio State will support Scarlet & Gray Advantage through fundraising, optimizing existing resources, collaborating with state and federal leaders to support student success, and engaging with the business community and other employers.

“Ohio State has a long history of creating programs to reduce student debt, making it one of the most academically excellent and affordable institutions in our state and the nation,” Johnson said. “With the help of our supporters, Scarlet & Gray Advantage will continue that tradition of innovation, inclusivity and generosity that make our university and Buckeye family unlike any other in the world.”

More information about the Scarlet & Gray Advantage program, including opportunities to contribute, is available at advantage.osu.edu.

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