Covenant scholars excelling

Increased retention and graduation

Seven years ago, the University established the Carolina Covenant program to overcome the weight college tuition can place on students beneath the poverty line.

This week, the program that allows low-income students to graduate debt free exceeded expectations.

University officials said they were floored this week when a performance report card for the Carolina Covenant program revealed stunning increases in retention and graduation rates.

The report, which compared the entering classes from 2003 and 2005, found a 9.6 percentage point increase in four-year graduation rates, raising the rate to 66.3 percent. Meanwhile, the retention rate for covenant scholars jumped 4 percentage points, to 90.2 percent

The most drastic increase was the 27.2 percent point rise in graduation rates among male scholars compared to all male students. Male covenant scholars graduated at a rate of 67.2 percent, compared to 65.7 percent for female covenant scholars.

There are 2,200 Carolina Covenant scholars at UNC, 558 of whom are freshmen. The scholarship is given to any eligible student whose family’s income falls at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Shirley Ort, director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said her office was excited by the results but unsure of their cause.

“There is a theory that young men are very responsive if you pay attention to them,” Ort said. “We are wondering if the fact that we really watch the progress of students and intervene to provide assistance if needed makes a difference in this noteworthy finding.”

Fred Clark, academic coordinator for Carolina Covenant, said he also thinks the attention given to students was a factor in the improvements.

“We try to make it as personal as possible by talking with students and families every day to individualize each scholar’s experience,” Clark said.

Clark added that the program is about more than just picking up a scholarship check, as it provides numerous social and academic opportunities, including dinners, movies, lectures and workshops.

Freshman Gina Barbato said the covenant is one of the best things that happened to her and that having no financial worries with regard to her education is an invaluable asset.

“If I always had to be worried about money and paying for school then it would definitely cut into my academics,” she said.

Although the program cannot replace the student’s expected family contribution, students are awarded a combination of grants, scholarships, and work-study assignments to meet their financial needs without incurring debt.

To help Carolina Covenant scholars succeed, Ort said the program emphasizes removing financial stress, monitoring academic progress and getting students to engage with one another and the community.

Ort said she doesn’t expect the program to be affected by the University’s budget cuts because their cut will not come from funds designated toward student aid.

However, 59 percent of the Carolina Covenant financial aid comes from federal and state grants, which could be decreased, she said.

“The worrisome part is what happens with federal and state grants,” Ort said, adding that she would seek out other sources of aid if those funds were cut. “Both are important foundations for the program.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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