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ETSU offers free freshman tuition following COVID-19 financial hardship

Brandon Paykamian • Updated May 20, 2020 at 11:49 AM

East Tennessee State University will now offer incoming freshmen an opportunity to attend their first year tuition-free following weeks of financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the university announced its new Free Freshman Tuition program available during the 2020-21 academic year for full-time freshmen who live in Tennessee.

Students must be first-time freshmen enrolled full-time for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters to qualify. Students must also be set to receive Tennessee Student Assistance Award and Tennessee HOPE Scholarship funds.

Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Sam Mayhew said university officials had discussed the program prior to the outbreak, but the timing comes at a pivotal moment for many high school seniors looking to go to college.

“We’re here to serve our region, and we certainly want to make higher education affordable for residents in our region and beyond,” he said. “We want to help families during this time, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic where they’re maybe looking at their finances a little bit differently. We want to make sure they can send their sons and daughters off to college, and we want to be the place.

“The genesis of this program was before March, and we’ve been working on this for some time.” 

This program is the latest in a set of ETSU initiatives that seek to “ensure all students have the opportunity to attend a four-year university this fall,” according to Monday’s university announcement.

In January, the university launched its ETSU Promise Plus program, which provides last-dollar tuition assistance and housing scholarships for eligible incoming freshmen.

Last month, the university’s Board of Trustees made ETSU the first university in the state to approve a 0% tuition and fee increase for the 2020-21 academic year. The university will not charge online fees for summer courses and will keep housing and meal plan fees flat. The Buccaneer Crisis Fund has also recently provided more than $50,000 to current students struggling with housing and utility expenses.

Mayhew stressed that students who have not yet applied for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should do so as soon as possible to see if they qualify for the Free Freshman Tuition program.

“We definitely want to encourage students who haven’t applied to go ahead and apply. We’re actively reaching out to those students who we can identify who are eligible for this program,” he said. “If a student hasn’t completed their FAFSA, they need to do that at this point. If they have any questions, our financial aid office is available to assist them through that process.

“We won’t know if they’re TSAA eligible until they complete their FAFSA,” he continued. “Most students will know if they’re HOPE eligible based on their high school GPA and their academic performance in high school.”

Mayhew said the program’s budget is still yet to be determined as of Tuesday.

“The amount of institutional resources needed to support our Free Freshman Tuition program depends on the number of students who pursue this opportunity,” he said. “Eligible students will likely have varying levels of state and federal financial aid awards which will determine the budget impact for ETSU.”

ETSU’s Undergraduate Admissions Office will contact each prospective student after they fill out a form expressing their interest in Free Freshman Tuition at www.etsu.edu/free. Questions about the program can be directed to [email protected]

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