In a recent editorial bemoaning the high level of indebtedness that plagues so many of today’s college graduates, the New York Post notes that “higher education doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.” The newspaper cites a few select schools — Thomas Aquinas College among them — that are “addressing the rising student-debt issue with an innovative use of an old-fashioned concept: work.”
Specifically, the Post touts the College’s Service Scholarship program, under which students who receive financial aid contribute to the cost of their education by working a part-time, on-campus job. “Out in California, Thomas Aquinas College, a private Catholic institution, accepts no subsidies from the government but manages to keep its tuition to $24,000,” the editorial observes. “Its work-study program has students tending the grounds, serving in cafeterias or working in the library 13 hours a week essentially in exchange for room and board.”
The Service Scholarship Program is an essential component of the College’s longstanding commitment to admit and enroll qualified students irrespective of their financial need. “We do not think of our students as customers, here to purchase a product or service,” says President Michael F. McLean. “They are our partners in the project of Catholic liberal education. Employing students wherever possible, instead of outside workers, helps to make tuition more affordable for all, and gives the students a better understanding of what it takes to run the College.”
Indeed, for many of the students, participating in the Service Scholarship Program is akin to doing chores for their families back home. It is a way to contribute to the well-being of the group, and also to repay, in some small measure, the efforts of others — be it parents or the College’s benefactors — whose sacrifices make their Catholic liberal education possible. “It makes you realize that you are not on your own,” says Katherine Guilford (’15). “You are not responsible for just yourself, but you are responsible to and for other people. You are part of a community.”
Students and families who qualify for financial aid at Thomas Aquinas College must first make a maximum effort to pay for as much of their tuition, room, and board as they reasonably can. This effort, explains Director of Financial Aid Gregory Becher, includes taking on “a modest amount of student-loan debt,” currently capped at a total of $18,000 over four years. After that, students help pay for their education by working part-time during the academic year, usually through the Service Scholarship Program. Thanks to the generosity of its benefactors, the College is able to cover any remaining need through grants.
Each year U.S. News & World Report places Thomas Aquinas College on its Top 25 list for “least debt” among graduates of top colleges and universities. The Princeton Review consistently names the College to its list of the nation’s 75 Best Value Colleges and its Financial Aid Honor Roll.
“Smart colleges know parents are asking tougher questions about what their kids are getting in exchange for the ever-escalating tuition dollar,” concludes the New York Post’s editorial. “And smart students can find schools where they will earn a quality degree without incurring the debt overwhelming so many of their peers.”
“Thomas Aquinas College is one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the country and the pride and joy of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region.”
– Most Rev. Robert E. Barron
Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles