There is something about the word “free.” It’s simple and to the point. It relieves stress and opens up strategies. As students apply for fall 2024 college admission, Philadelphia families whose adjusted gross income is $65,000 or less can count on sending their students to Temple without paying anything for tuition and fees. Nothing. Nada.
This opportunity is in addition to the one already available to a handful of Philadelphia public high school students from eight North Philadelphia zip codes. Each year since 2021, Temple has selected 50 high school seniors for a free college prep course. The university then chooses 20 to 25 of those students to attend their neighborhood university tuition-free as Cecil B. Moore Scholars. They begin with a summer bridge program, and continue within a cohort that receives focused advising and mentoring.
The new scholarship program, announced on February 1, is far more ambitious. The Temple Promise applies to all Philadelphia students who’ve been accepted for the fall of 2024 and whose families earn less than $65,000 annually. Covering fees, as well as tuition, the program falls into the category of the College Promise, a national initiative with the motto, “Imagine If College Were As Universal, Free, and Accessible as High School.”
“Free” is the best possible marketing tool.
How does the Temple Promise work?
Right now college applicants across the country are wringing their hands over delays in the new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application, which universities use to determine federal and state grants and loans.
For low-income Temple applicants, FAFSA-related problems matter less. Although the school’s financial aid office is sure to review family financial information on the FAFSA form, Temple has promised no tuition and no fees (save room and board). Qualifying new students can reasonably expect to pay nothing.
A first-generation college student does not naturally breathe in higher education information the way more privileged students do.
Technically, the financial aid office will apply students’ assigned FAFSA amount to the free tuition-and-fee promise. The potential downside: This first application of federal and state money means that it looks like most Temple Promise families will have to cover room and board. Since all are Philadelphia residents, commuting from the family home could be an option.
Even with federal and state aid counted first, this scholarship program will be costly to Temple. It’s useful to note, however, that Temple finances will be helped by Governor Shapiro’s proposal to increase state aid (PHEAA) by $1,000 at state-related universities including Temple.
The power of free
Worry over paying for college deters many qualified applicants. I know this from my own experience as president of universities where we conducted surveys of applicants who were admitted but didn’t enroll. Their main concern: college payments and debt.
Take the money worries away, and what do you have? If you’re Temple in this moment: a powerful message you need to communicate, especially to Philadelphians who can be difficult to reach. According to the latest report, just 670 of Temple’s first-year students are Philadelphians. That’s 17.2 percent. Surely, once the news of the Temple Promise circulates, that number will grow.
The Temple program rehabilitates three powerful and currently misunderstood words: diversity, inclusion and excellence — words that are essential to protecting democracy.
But first, the news must … start. College counselors, community organizations, and the media can help. A first-generation college student does not naturally breathe in higher education information the way more privileged students do. Distrust of institutions will lead some qualifying families to see the opportunity as too good to be true.
Temple should also make the application procedure as simple as possible. In fact, the university could take a page from other campuses and communicate to qualified students who have not even applied that they are admitted at no cost to their families.
What else should Temple — and other Philadelphia colleges and universities — do?
Making Temple more affordable for Philadelphia families is a big — and necessary — step.
But there’s much more to do. Temple should expand the services now provided to those few Cecil B. Moore scholars — summer bridge programs, focused mentoring and tutoring — in order to include Temple Promise students.
Temple, along with other universities and colleges, does not pay property taxes. I, for one, do not think they should pay millions of dollars into the general city and state funds. They can do so much more through targeted payments like Penn’s $100 million investment in renovating Philadelphia public schools.
Temple, Penn, and other Philadelphia universities should continue and expand long-term, costly commitments to partner with neighborhood schools, K-12, to prepare Philadelphia students for college success. Start with the elementary schools, providing enrichment programming for kids at every level.
Mayor Parker’s vision for schools providing year-round activities is a perfect opportunity for university-school partnerships. Coordinate with community organizations like Mural Arts. Now that Temple is free for lower-income families, invest in enhanced academic experiences to remove cultural barriers, making Philadelphia the city of educational success.
The Temple Promise, which I hope will be emulated by Penn and other Philadelphia colleges and universities, can help to regain public trust in higher education. The Temple program rehabilitates three powerful and currently misunderstood words: diversity, inclusion and excellence — words that are essential to protecting democracy.
What you can do
- Talk to family and friends about this opportunity for free college education at Temple.
- Support cooperative plans between Temple and the School District of Philadelphia.
- Urge legislators to approve Governor Shapiro’s plan for PA higher education.
- Volunteer to work in school enrichment programs.
- Donate whatever you are able to Temple — and to other universities committed to enrolling low-income students.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is an Advisor at the American Council on Education. She is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her long career in higher education has encompassed top executive positions at public universities as well as distinction as a scholar in rhetoric/composition. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on X.
Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the number of first-year students from Philadelphia at Temple.
MORE ON TEMPLE FROM THE PHILADELPHIA CITIZEN