Ithaca College freshmen pocket $10,000 in tuition credit to take year off

collegeIt seems like a dream come true for college students weary of 8 a.m. classes, obnoxious dorm mates and cramming for finals, but for some Ithaca College students, it became a reality when the school realized that things were getting a bit too crowded on campus.

So far, 31 students have accepted the school's impossible-to-believe offer: Take a year off for $10,000.
The offer isn't quite as glamorous as it sounds. School officials aren't walking around campus, approaching tired students with briefcases full of bling and offering them cash if they would just clear out. Instead, the school wants selected, accepted students to defer enrollment until the next academic school year. And no checks are being cut here. The $10,000 offer is a credit against their tuition. With a yearly cost of more than $33,000, the amount comes to almost a third of a full year. Essentially, Ithaca College is offering students free room and board for a year

Ithaca College's problems began in 2008. That year, the incoming freshman class for the school shrank by more than 11%. Officials attributed this to enrollment standards that were too stringent, and a financial aid policy that wasn't rewarding enough, among other factors. In an effort to compensate and bring freshman enrollment back on target for the next year, the school moved in the opposite direction, this year admitting 73% of 2009 applicants versus only 59% of 2008 applicants.

Unfortunately, the school realized too late that it's efforts to "right the ship" had resulted in overcompensation, and the freshman class was quickly filled and then overfilled to the tune of more than 20%. For a school of 6,500 students, those numbers were going to have a real, tangible impact. Cafeterias, dorms, and classrooms would definitely feel the pinch of an additional 1,300 people.

The school also wants to thin out the campus a bit by offering upperclassmen $2,000 to move out of the dormitories and into off-campus housing. According to some reports from students currently attending the school, the situation in the dorms is worsening. Doubles have become "forced triples," and some students have no choice but to live in the dormitory student lounges. The administration doesn't think it's so bad: "Everyone rose to the challenge," Brian McAree, vice president for student affairs and campus life, told a college newsletter. "It's exciting to feel the extra energy on campus that comes from having so many newcomers."

Either way, the mistake has worked out well for the school. Even with the $10,000 giveaway, the increased enrollment has brought in money for the institution, allowing them to build a new residence hall. The school has also taken on additional instructors, and has plans to share the windfall with students in need as merit-based awards.

The school is keeping tabs on the 31 freshmen who have accepted the money. "The students who accepted the $10,000 to defer enrollment are taking the opportunity to expand their horizons," Eric Maguire, Ithaca's vice president of enrollment told a Syracuse, N.Y. television station. "We've got one student who is taking this year to teach English in Costa Rica. Some are working in their local communities in service projects."

So what are your thoughts on the situation, Money College readers? Is this a brilliant way for a cash-strapped school to infuse itself with some extra revenue? Or a cynical method of filling the coffers? Let us know in the comments.

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