University of Akron freshman Marisa Vaccaro doesn’t plan on dropping to a “C” — or 2.0 — average, but if she does she will still keep her scholarship.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” Vaccaro, 18, said of the university’s new Akron Guarantee Scholarship that grows in value if students maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and accumulate credits toward graduation.

Vaccaro, who graduated from Green High School in Summit County last spring, said, “I don’t want to go that low,” to a 2.0 GPA.

But she likes that the scholarship does relieve some anxiety and provides an incentive to focus on racking up credits and graduating.

Vaccaro and the other Akron Guarantee recipients got first-year scholarship awards that are smaller than those with UA’s traditional plan.

But unlike traditional scholarships, the Akron Guarantee increases as students earn more credit hours. And students end up with a larger amount cumulatively over four years.

For example, once a student earns 30 credits, the new scholarship increases by $1,500.

The new Akron Guarantee Scholarship has proved to be so popular that beginning with next fall, UA officials plan to no longer offer general academic scholarships — awarded at the time of admission — for incoming freshmen. Instead, eligible students will only receive Akron Guarantee Scholarships. (Scholarships funded through private donations will continue.)

Encouraging students to persist in their studies is what the Akron Guarantee is all about, UA officials say.

“I’m a huge believer that when we get a student, we need to do everything possible to help that student graduate,” said UA President Matthew Wilson, who developed a similar program in 2015 while he was dean of UA’s law school.

The new plan, Wilson said, “rewards fast progress. Everybody likes that excitement.”

Also, Wilson said, “it’s going to get you out into the workforce quicker. There’s an incentive every year to stay on a full-time basis and get 15 credits every semester, which hopefully will keep students on track to graduation in four years.”

New option popular

For this school year, the 2,297 incoming freshmen who met the requirements had the choice of a traditional general academic scholarship or the new Akron Guarantee plan. (Requirements involve high school GPA and standardized test scores.)

A total of 74 percent, or 1,710 of the freshmen, chose the Akron Guarantee.

Richard Dwomoh, 19, from Columbus, said he chose the Akron Guarantee for a simple reason: “I’m trying to do good in school and the more classes [completed], the more the money comes in.”

His high school counselor gave him the information about the scholarship, he said.

Jennifer Harpham, UA’s director of student financial aid, said she doesn’t know of any other school with the same program.

“It’s unique in that it increases over time as students reach certain milestones,” she said.

Harpham said that by setting the minimum GPA needed to keep the scholarship at 2.0 — what UA calls “good academic standing” — students can “focus on persisting. They’re not losing their scholarships because they had a bad semester.”

The state also is focused on student retention and graduation, basing half of the taxpayer-supported universities’ state subsidies on graduation rates.

That’s up from 20 percent with the prior funding formula, which ended with the 2013-14 school year.

How it works

Wilson said he believes the Akron Guarantee played a role in new freshmen enrollment increasing 8.1 percent to 3,722 this fall.

The new scholarships are part of Wilson’s “stabilize, invest and grow” plan he launched last year in response to the university’s enrollment declines and budget gaps.

Wilson hopes that any extra amount UA spends on the Akron Guarantee will be more than offset by revenue from new students.

How is the traditional scholarship plan — which is being phased out — different than the Akron Guarantee?

With the traditional plan, a student eligible for $5,000 receives that amount each year, providing he or she maintains a 3.25 GPA. UA’s traditional scholarships vary, requiring students to maintain a GPA between 2.75 to 3.25.

The total value over four years — or eight semesters — is $20,000.

With the Akron Guarantee, the same student initially receives $4,000 instead of $5,000. Providing the student has at least a 2.0, the scholarship increases by $1,500 after 30 credits.

The scholarship increases by $1,000 after 60 credits and another $1,000 after 90 credits. The total sum over four years is $23,500.

For information, go to uakron.edu/guarantee.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.