“The Carolina Covenant is our promise to low-income students that if they work hard, they play by the rules … we’ll make it possible for them to come to Carolina and graduate free of debt,” Stephen Farmer, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions, says in the accompanying video.
University officials noticed that students from low-income households were reluctant to take on any debt to help pay for college. Instead, they would often take jobs and work 20, 30, even 40 hours a week as full-time students – which in turn made it difficult to complete their degrees on time.
So in 2003, Shirley Ort, then Vice Provost and director of student aid, and then-Chancellor James Moeser cobbled together funds from multiple sources, and the Covenant launched in 2004 – students from households up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (now $48,600 for a family of four) could graduate free of debt. In addition to financial help, Covenant Scholars receive academic and personal support.
Eighty to 100 universities have since copied the Covenant.
Covenant Scholars now make up 12-14% of each entering class, Farmer says, and there are more than 2,000 on campus in Chapel Hill – in every class, every residence hall, every student organization.1
“They’re woven into the life of the institution,” he says.
And their graduation rate is approaching that of the general student population.2
“The Covenant is not only about getting into Carolina; it’s getting out of Carolina,” Farmer says. “It was also designed … to make sure that once people had access to the University, once they walked through the door, that they kept walking until they walked across the stage.”
1 “Student Aid at Carolina: An Uncommon Commitment,” Shirley Ort, Associate Provost & Director, Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, March 2016, Slide 10.
2Ibid, Slide 11.