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Tuition Free Policy: Home

Written by Jaime Bradley

Tuition Free Policy

FAQ: When did Berea College become tuition-free? Answer: 1892
FAQ: When did Berea College’s endowment reach $100,000? Answer: 1887


Tuition is the amount charged to a student to cover the costs of instruction. Other fees, such as room, board, fees for music lessons, fuel or utilities, sports equipment, and other activities, are traditionally charged in addition to tuition in order to cover all other expenses accrued by the institution during the course of a student’s enrollment and presence on-campus. At Berea College, very modest tuition was charged for the first 25 years of operations, in addition to other fees, until a free tuition policy went into effect in 1892. Incidentals, room, board, and other activity fees, however, have always been a part of the cost of attending Berea College.

Development of the Tuition Free Policy

From the beginning, the intentions of the founders led them to orient the institution in such a way as to keep costs to students low, with the ultimate goal of eventually eliminating the tuition charge. Announcements and Catalogs from the onset of the College in 1869 mention opportunities “for self- support” and the option to work on campus or in the immediate vicinity of the College in order to earn funds to cover a portion of their cost of education, which included tuition and fees. However, neither work nor funding could be guaranteed to all students, and the early catalogs clearly state that students should not expect work unless they have been informed of it ahead of time. Early catalogs also state that many students were admitted without having to pay tuition and ensure that any “active and industrious” student could study at Berea with their labor, either at the school or in the village, covering most of the costs.

As further evidence of these inclusive aims, on 1 July 1868, the Berea College Board of Trustees “Moved that the Institution be free to Colored children between the ages of six and twenty, for twelve weeks in the fall term to pay incidental expenses and tuition for extra time. White children were included in the same motion.” Because this motion applied only to students under the age of 20, this policy would not have affected all of the students in the then very small College Department.

During a meeting on 4 July 1878, the Berea College Board of Trustees “Voted that when our Endowment fund reaches Seventy Five Thousand dollars we declare tuition free.” However, reference to this policy does not appear again in the board minutes, despite evidence that the endowment had reached $100,000 by 1887. On 7 September 1892, William Goodell Frost accepted the presidency of Berea College and simultaneously proposed a multi-part recommendation to the Board, in which he suggested that tuition be free and incidental fees be increased. Beginning with the catalog printed in 1892, the “Expenses” portion of the catalog states “Tuition is free.”

Therefore, 1892 is the first academic year for which Berea College officially published a free tuition statement.

Tuition and Expenses at Berea College, 1866 to 1891

The First Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Berea College, issued for the academic year 1866-1867, includes a small section entitled “Expenses” which describes tuition costs: “Tuition in the Academic Department is $3.75 for the Fall term, and $3.00 for the other terms. In the other Departments it is $2 50 for the Fall term, and $2 00 for the other terms. In all cases payable in advance.” Immediately following this section is one entitled “Manual Labor” which states that labor to assist “industrious young men” with their expenses would be available at the Institution.

In 1869, the tuition charge reduced to $1.00 per month, with an incidental fee and charges for room, board, music lessons, and other options combining for an estimated summary of total annual costs for that year as no more than $120.[1] For the years 1870 through 1891, each catalog provides a chart showing a range of estimated expenses, which begin at $39.50 and top out at $60.25 per term for 1870, with charges continuing to drop over the next decade. Tuition and fee rates during the late 1870s through the 1880s remained low and stable.

In 1878, an endowment gift of $30,000 by C. M. Dike and C. M. Hammond allowed for the creation of seventy-two tuition scholarships for Berea students. James S. Hathaway also provided a fund to support tuition scholarships for 18 students during the year 1879.

For the 1891-1892 academic year, per the catalog, “Tuition in the higher department is $3 for a term of three months, and in the Primary, Intermediate, and Grammar Schools, $2. To this is added an Incidental fee of $1 each for the fall and spring terms, and $2 for the winter term, to pay for heating and cleaning the school buildings.” The estimated expenses are listed at a range of $30 to $40 per term, a decline of over a third of costs from those listed for 1869.

Tuition Charges as Listed in Berea College Catalogs, 1869-1892

Academic Year Tuition Cost (College Department) Endowment Fund
1866-67 $3.75 Fall Term, $3.00 other terms $10,000
1867-68 Same as previous $11,000
1869-70 $1.00 per month $10,000
1870-71 Same as previous $14,000
1871-72 Same as previous $14,000
1873-74 Same as previous $19,000
1875-76 $3.50 for three month term, incidental fee eliminated Not listed
1876 Same as previous Not listed
1877-78 $4.00 for three month term Not listed
1878-79 $4.00 for three month term,
90 free-tuition scholarships established through endowments
Not listed [but at least $50,000]
1879-80 $3.00 for three month term, Incidentals $1.00, other fees drop,
72 free tuition scholarships awarded
Not listed
1880-81 Same as previous Not listed
1881-82 Same as previous Not listed
1882-83 Same as previous Not listed
1883-84 Same as previous Not listed
1884-85 Same as previous Not listed
1885-86 Same as previous Not listed
1886-87 Same as previous $100,000
1887-88 Same as previous $100,000
1888-89 Same as previous $100,000
1889-90 Same as previous Not listed
1890-91 Same as previous Not listed
1891-92 Same as previous Not listed
1892-93 Tuition is free Not listed

Fees and Other Charges

Following 1892, a much more complicated and ever-changing fee structure developed for incidentals, room, board, heat, water, music lessons, science classes, P.E., publications, campus clubs, and other services and amenities in residential life, extra-curricular activities, and special use of equipment. As such, labor pay was intended to help students pay these fees as well as assist with basic living and travel expenses.

Throughout the 20th century, federal programs, private donations, and grants from foundations have assisted Berea College with covering tuition costs and labor pay for student workers. Research continues on the significant historical developments, dates, and major programs in this area.

Works Cited

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