Education

How many FIU freshmen qualify for new free tuition offer? The number may surprise you

Florida International University’s program, called the “Golden Promise” guarantees to cover gaps in financial aid until graduation.
Florida International University’s program, called the “Golden Promise” guarantees to cover gaps in financial aid until graduation. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Last year, Florida International University pledged to pay tuition for students who couldn’t afford it. One year later, more than one third of the class of 2021 will be headed to FIU for free.

When the program was announced last spring, the Miami Herald reported that 1,200 freshmen were expected qualify for the program in 2017. This year, 1,131 students have received aid.

The program, called the “Golden Promise,” guarantees to cover gaps in financial aid through four years of college for incoming freshmen whose families can’t afford the price.

For student Aaliyah Davis, the Golden Promise has put her on the path to become the first person in her family to graduate college. The 18-year-old political science and journalism major started classes in June and her summer has been stress-free since she found out her tuition would be covered by the program.

“It gives me some hope that I’ll finish and continue on in school,” said Davis, a recent graduate of C. Leon King High School in Tampa. “I just want to do my best and work hard in all my classes. I want to go to law school.”

The program costs the university around $300,000, FIU Admissions Director Jody Glassman said, and is meant to remove the financial barrier to higher education. The first cohort of Golden Promise students started in June, and the rest will begin in August for the fall semester. Glassman said she expects the program to grow.

“The Golden Promise is just one way to say that we recognize the cost of an education,” she said. “I do see it sticking around.”

To qualify, students have to be Florida residents whose expected family contribution (EFC) on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is listed as zero. The Golden Promise provides grants to cover 30 credits per year, 120 credits (4 years) maximum for recipients.

To my family, it means that their goal for me is going to be achieved.

Dario Carrasco, FIU freshman

Incoming freshman Dario Carrasco said the Golden Promise has been a “dream come true.”

“Ever since I was in fifth grade, I wanted to go to FIU,” said Carrasco, 17, of Miami Lakes. “It’s the opportunity to get the best education that I can get without having to give my arm and my leg.”

Carrasco, a recent graduate of Barbara Goleman Senior High School, said because of the program, he is in the “best-case scenario” for his future.

“Student loans are hard to pay off,” he said.

He’s not wrong. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average U.S. household has 828 percent more student debt than in 1999. The numbers also reveal that student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt as the second largest type of debt in American households, behind mortgages.

Every student’s Golden Promise package is different, based on the amount of money each student receives from federal grant money.

Carrasco has his tuition covered for four years, and will use other merit-based scholarships to pay for textbooks and other necessities. The rising freshman said that he’s loved school since youth, and that his parents always pushed him to reach his full potential. At this point, that means a college education.

“To my family, it means that their goal for me is going to be achieved,” he said.

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