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Westminster opens doors for diversity, equity with tuition-free program

The graphic shows a short description and the requirements for qualification for the Westminster Commitment program. The information can be found on the Westminster College website within the section on financial aid. Graphic courtesy of Vanessa Eveleth. Image description: A graphic gives an explanation of the Westminster Commitment and the requirements for qualification. The title reads “What is the Westminster Commitment?”

The Westminster Commitment is a tuition-free Westminster College program with the potential to encourage college attendance for incoming students who are statistically left out due to financial barriers.

“I think [The Westminster Commitment] covers a really distinctive way for students in Utah to take a look at Westminster, particularly for those who might not take a look at Westminster because of the prevailing narrative that Westminster is too expensive [and] not demographically diverse,” said Tamara Stevenson, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the chief diversity officer at Westminster.

The program is designed to cover the total cost of tuition for four years and is exclusively for Utah students who are out of high school and have a cumulative 3.3 GPA, according to the Westminster Commitment webpage. Applicants must be first-time students enrolling in the fall and come from a low-income household, according to the website. 

Utah students looking at colleges in their home state will find Westminster College is the most expensive, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Victoire Soumano, a senior geology major and an international student from Mali, said she received a different form of financial aid from Westminster.

“My main thing in choosing [Westminster] was the programs and the financial aid situation,” Soumano said.

Soumano also said she was originally looking at a school in Montana, but after touring Westminster and applying, she received a scholarship.

“If I didn’t get the scholarship I wouldn’t be able to attend Westminster because I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Soumano said.

Diversity at Westminster

Westminster College diversity compared to national diversity ranks lower by about 20%, according to College Factual. Nationally, enrollment rates for Black American students decreased by 8.8% in 2021, to Research.com

Students of color are more reluctant to take out student loans for college because of these factors, according to Tamara Stevenson, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the chief diversity officer at Westminster.

“It’s not that [students of color] don’t want to go college, university — they do — but that cost commitment, right, is daunting,” Stevenson said.

Tamara Stevenson, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the chief diversity officer at Westminster College, sits in her office located in Concerse Hall on Sept. 13. “I think [The Westminster Commitment] covers a really distinctive way for students in Utah to take a look at Westminster, particularly for those who might not take a look at Westminster because of the prevailing narrative that Westminster is too expensive [and] not demographically diverse,” Stevenson said. Photo courtesy of Madi Goddard. Image description: A black woman wearing a colorful shirt smiles for the camera in her office inside Converse Hall.

FASFA Completion in Utah

Incoming Westminster students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to receive federal financial aid, loans, work-study and grants, according to the Westminster first-generation student resources webpage

The National FAFSA Tracker shows Utah has a FAFSA completion rate of 34.8%, placing Utah second to last nationally, with the lowest being Alaska at 28%.

“I think that speaks to the willingness, the readiness, the understanding of the cost of higher education — and maybe the reluctance,” Stevenson said.

Low completion rates may indicate Utah students are not getting the chance to receive any federal financial aid, which can help pay for college, according to an Inside Higher Ed article based on findings from the National Center for Education Statistics. 

“53 percent of students from the lowest quintile either never enrolled or delayed their enrollment by more than a year, compared to roughly 11 percent from the top quintile,” according to the article.

In other words, over half of the low-income students are not enrolling in college after graduation. 

The graphic shows a short description and the requirements for qualification for the Westminster Commitment program. The information can be found on the Westminster College website within the section on financial aid. Graphic courtesy of Vanessa Eveleth. Image description: A graphic gives an explanation of the Westminster Commitment and the requirements for qualification. The title reads “What is the Westminster Commitment?”Graphic courtesy of Vanessa Eveleth.

The Westminster Commitment may help to change that, as one of the criteria for qualification is a student’s “total family household income must be below $60,000 with limited assets,” according to the webpage.

The program and information are presented to high school students applying for college, according to Tamara Stevenson, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the chief diversity officer at Westminster, and can be found when researching financial aid on the Westminster College website.

“This particular program is a way to entice some of that attention,” Stevenson said. “And [I’m] excited to know we’ll be starting our first cohort this year.”

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Madi Goddard (she/her/hers) is a third-year communication major minoring in French at Westminster College. She excels at finding ways to spend money but enjoys reading books and decorating for holidays in her downtime. Her favorite animal is a dog and she swears she’s never met one she didn’t like.

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