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Fontbonne steps up with a game-changing promise

Drawing inspiration from the archdiocesan Today & Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Fontbonne University has made a big promise to financially disadvantaged families — the promise of tuition-free college education.

The Fontbonne Promise, which debuts for the 2018-19 academic year, offers the no-cost opportunity — full tuition and fees for up to five years — for college freshmen who qualify academically but have estimated family contributions of zero on FAFSA, the federal student aid application. The program is open only to Missouri residents.

With Fontbonne tuition and fees at $25,450 per year, the "Promise" is worth between $101,800 (four years) and $125,250 (five); the difference acknowledges the reality of low-income students. Taking a full load of 15 credit hours per semester to graduate in four years might be impractical, if not impossible, for students working at least part-time to support family.

The new program is a game-changer for low-income students who qualify academically but lack the financial means for college living at or below the poverty line. Some skip college entirely, graduate with enormous student-loan debt or, in the worst case, leave college with debt but no degree.

Those scenarios create a "real moral challenge," Fontbonne president Michael Pressimone said. "We believe we can help students who have been marginalized socioeconomically but have still done well in school to get a quality, value-rich education."

Fontbonne's small enrollment of 1,500 plays to its advantage, offering students mentoring, tutoring, financial literacy and more.

"We're a smaller school and we have a strong learning-support program," Pressimone said. "Small, private colleges, whether Catholic or another denomination, do a better job of graduating students, students' earning potential is better and they come out with a deeper sense of values and are more engaged in their communities. ... The stats bear this out."

Fontbonne plans to offer full rides to at least 30 students, with financial aid coming from the federal and state governments, Fontbonne and donors. With $0 for family contribution on FAFSA, students would be eligible for Pell grants and Missouri Access grants worth $8,000 total, leaving about $17,000 to be split 50-50 between Fontbonne and donors.

Fontbonne Promise Partners make a five-year commitment. According to Pressimone, several donors already have signed up, including a former career educator who has experienced the economic reality of higher education.

"She has seen kids not go to college because they had no financial wherewithal whatsoever; they thought college was beyond their reach," Pressimone said. "She said, 'I want to make a difference.'"

Donors to Today & Tomorrow report similar motivation, which makes Catholic education possible for financially disadvantaged students in grade schools or high schools. The foundation intrigued Pressimone upon his arrival in St. Louis three years ago.

"The Today & Tomorrow program has been so successful for our Catholic schools," Pressimone said. "We know kids who go to our Catholic schools do better in college and in life. ... I was like, 'I need to do something like that at the Catholic higher education level.'

"We have to be able to do something for high school kids that want to go into college but need to be in a smaller environment. We believe we have a value-rich environment; I want to provide value-based education for those who are academically eligible but can least afford to pay."

The Fontbonne Promise also fits well within the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who founded Fontbonne in 1923 and continue as sponsors. The Sisters of St. Joseph provided input to Pressimone as Fontbonne formalized the program over the past year.

"Fontbonne always has had as part of its mission service of the St. Louis community," Pressimone said. "This is another way of serving our neighbor." 

>> The Fontbonne Promise

To learn more about applying to Fontbonne or becoming a Fontbonne Promise Partner, visit www.fontbonne.edu/promise. 

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