Finances & Money

First College to Guarantee 4 Year Graduation…With Free Tuition

Juniata CollegeJuniata college, nestled in scenic central Pennsylvania, happens to be my wife’s alma mater. You may have heard me talk about it recently, although I didn’t mention it by name, when I gave out our year-end donation amounts. This time, though, Juniata has announced something big enough for me to mention them by name: Their “A great education, within reach” campaign.

Here is the press release straight from Juniata. Here’s the skinny: If you don’t graduate within four years, the fifth year tuition is free. Here’s some stipulations:

The four-year guarantee comes with a laundry list of conditions: It only applies to domestic freshmen, not international or transfer students; it doesn’t include room and board; and it requires students to maintain “qualitative academic progress” and complete an average of 30 credit hours per year.

Why is Juniata doing this? Is it a PR stunt? Do they really trust their program that much? Well, let’s look at costs for a year at Juniata versus Penn State, which is a relatively short drive away:

Juniata: $36,000 per year (incl. room and board), or $28,920 with just tuition
Penn State: $13,000 per year (incl. room and board), no figures on just tuition

Granted, Juniata students receive a lot of financial aid, but going to Penn State for a third of the price IS very enticing, isn’t it? But let’s look at the graduation figures:

Juniata: Average of 92% graduate within 4 years (96% for the class of 2006)

Pennsylvania “state schools”: 27% (no figures on specifically Penn State, but they are a state-funded school)

The Verdict

Obviously Juniata has the numbers to support its plan to guarantee that students graduate within 4 years, but they admit it is mostly a way to attract attention to the school when so many locals overlook it due to the high cost. Honestly, and I’ll speak more on this separately, I graduated in 5 years from Penn State with student loans of about $20,000, while Stacie graduated from Juniata with the same debt in just 4 years. Goes to show that state schools aren’t always cheaper than private colleges! Oh, and guess whose events we attend multiple times per year….nope, not Penn State’s 🙂

About the author

Clever Dude


  • The big state schools get so many donations and other income that they can keep the tuitions low (although they’ve been rising dramatically recently), while the small schools are almost solely funded by the students. At least that’s my understanding from experience.

  • …though when state schools are noted in PA, it’s usually talking about the PASSHE system and not Pitt and Penn State which as you know are partially privatized. According to Penn State’s tuition calculator, tuition for university park, 15 credits each semester as an in-state undecided Sophomore (I just picked one) is $12,844. living on campus and including activity fees and whatnot, they say it’d be $22,044. The cost can vary drastically depending on what campus and living arrangement one has–I just chose the one that would be closest to Juniata’s “main” campus (since there’s just one) on campus living.

  • Oh! I forgot something. I’m REALLY interested to see what this does to their numbers in the future. It’s a fantastic idea, but it may have unintended consequences. I know the reason I stayed a 5th year in school was to get a second major–doing the cost benefit analysis, I decided it was worth it because I wasn’t going to pay that much more for another year. In the case of Juniata students in years past, they may have found the cost prohibitive–especially if their scholarships ran out after 4 years. This subsidizes the second major for current students and takes a lot of the cost out of that decision, unless the school is covering for that under their stipulation of “providing they’re not able to get the courses they need to fulfill POE requirements in four years.”

  • This could be really useful for double-majors. I know a couple people who came in fully aware that they’d have to do a fifth year. One would have to average 5 years at a cheaper school and 4 years + board at Juniata, but it might work out…or at least tip the balance in Juniata’s direction.

    I went to a less expensive but still expensive private college–they had a number of scholarship programs for smart and poor students. Dumb middle-upper class ones were kind of left out…

    As a smart one, I graduated sans debt.

  • I don’t see why this deal is so great. If you put any amount of effort into your studies you can graduate in 4 years. If I had taken two summer classes, I could have graduated in 3 and 1/2 yaers.

  • it is a gimmick, pure and simple.

    my brother works in an admissions dept for a smaller college, and all colleges do gimmicks like this.

    juniata probably has 8 pages of fine print to what qualifies…

  • It took me 10 semesters because I changed majors in my senior year (thank goodness!), and I couldn’t take ONE class because it had a bunch of prerequisites. So, my 10th semester was only 1 class, and it was a great time.

    So, if I didn’t change majors, I would have finished in 4 years, but I would be horribly unhappy in my career as an accountant. HORRIBLY UNHAPPY!

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