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Duke University launches free tuition for undergraduates who call the Carolinas home

Duke's campus spans over 8,600 acres in Durham, N.C.
Richard Ricciardi
Duke, via Flickr
The Duke University Chapel is a chapel located at the center of the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke University is announcing a new financial aid grant to cover the full cost of undergraduate tuition for current and future students with middle-class or low-income backgrounds from the Carolinas.

It's a bold and broad financial aid commitment — any undergraduate student from North Carolina and South Carolina admitted to Duke whose household income is $150,000 or less will not have to pay tuition. Those whose family income is $65,000 or less will receive a full ride, including tuition, housing and meals — all without student loans.

Undergraduate tuition at Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and Pratt School of Engineering is $63,450 per academic year, and total tuition, fees, and housing can stack up to nearly $90,000 annually.

“We just want to make more clear our commitment to families in the Carolinas and ensure that as many families as possible appreciate that a Duke education can be affordable and accessible,” said Dean of Trinity College Gary Bennett.

Financial aid officers will determine eligibility for the grant based on a student’s residency and income information — including typical family assets — submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the College Board’s more detailed CSS profile.

Students will be required to provide proof of state residency once, when they first apply for admission. So long as their household continues to meet income eligibility requirements, they will continue to receive the grant in later years. Students from military families whose legal residence is in the Carolinas and who meet income requirements will also qualify, even if they are stationed elsewhere.

The funding for the as-yet unnamed program will come from the university’s operating funds. No major gift announcements accompanied the financial aid announcement.

“We are adjusting our internal operating resources to make sure that we can provide this program for students in the Carolinas for the foreseeable future,” Bennett said.

He says university officials have been working out the details of the program for more than a year. It's being announced this week just before students receive their fall financial aid statements the first week of July. This coming semester, 340 current and incoming Duke undergraduate students will be eligible, which is about 5% of the university’s undergraduate population.

“We've been thinking about ways of ensuring that families in the Carolinas are aware that Duke is an affordable and accessible option and there's never a better time than now,” Bennett said.

This announcement comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon release a decision that may limit the use of race conscious admissions practices at public and private colleges nationwide. That ruling could make race neutral recruitment efforts like this all the more crucial to admitting a diverse incoming class.

“It's not entirely clear what the [Supreme Court] judgment will be, but we've been planning for a variety of different potential scenarios, and will continue to do our very best to recruit and retain a very diverse student body within the limits of law,” Bennett said.

He said university officials hope the initiative will increase the number of applications Duke receives from high school students in North and South Carolina.

According to Duke’s media relations team, the university does not have any plans to increase its overall undergraduate enrollment, but if the program results in more outstanding applicants students from the Carolinas, they might become a larger proportion of the student body.

“We're so excited about this, we want everybody in the Carolinas to know about it,” said Bennett.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org