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There is a New England-like campus out there, complete with brick buildings, in a small town of Kentucky named Berea! Have you heard of it? Berea is getting quite a bit of attention lately, and recently Tamar Lewin wrote an article on it in The New York Times. Because it is one of the nation’s best endowed colleges at 1.1 billion dollars, Berea stands out. But it truly stands out in another aspect. It accepts only applicants from low-income families and it charges no tuition.

That’s right, and it offers a great education. Families who come for a visit and interview stay for free in a four-bedroom house, and single parents who are enrolled as students may have their own house. How do they do it? Aside from their large endowment, which they use for the benefit of students, Berea stocks its cafeterias with the food it produces on the college farm, and students make furniture for the sleeping facilities and classrooms in the college craft workshops. All students also must commit to a 10-hour job on campus doing such things as work at the college-owned hotel in town, on the farm, in the college craft studio/shop, in labs, or in administration.

Berea does not have all the frills, though. There is no football team, no coed dorms, no recreational climbing walls. Still, students love getting their degree debt free and have a sense of belonging where there is not so much competition to have money to fit in.

Meanwhile, other well-endowed colleges do not seem to be fulfilling their duty to the public for their tax-exempt status. Harvard at $35 billion, Yale at $23 billion, Stanford at $17 billion, and Princeton at $16 billion in endowments are accepting only one in ten students from the bottom 40% of the income scale. It seems their tax exemption on all those dollars should pressure these institutions to do more to lower their tuitions, give more grants than loans, expand their student bodies to include more low-income students, or at least broaden their recruitment practices to acquire more low-income applicants.

Don’t you wonder if a college essay appealing to an elite college’s “contract” with the public to accept a low-income student might hit the right button? If not, there are schools out there more like Berea that are affordable.

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