By Neal Simons
Liz Gundlach never planned on enrolling at Finlandia after graduating from Calumet High School in 2010. Despite her father’s wishes for her to attend Finlandia, Liz applied to three different colleges during her senior year: Lake Superior State University, Central Michigan University, and Alma College.
Desiring Alma the most, she jumped at the chance to enroll the moment they accepted her. However, Alma’s ten-hour distance from home and an overall unsatisfactory academic experience ultimately brought her to Finlandia. This decision was by no means to her detriment, as Liz already knew most of the staff there and chose to major in psychology which she has now found to be her calling. Best of all, because her mother works at Finlandia, Liz is enrolled with free tuition.
Eleven Finlandia students are currently enrolled through the Tuition Waiver Program, which allows full-time employees and their family members to attend college without having to pay tuition. According to Executive Vice President for Business and Finance Nick Stevens, around 6-7 employees typically take classes under the Tuition Waiver Program along with 6-9 of their dependents, ranging from spouses to children.
“Our employees under the program don’t have to be degree-seeking,” added Human Resources Director Karin Van Dyke, “It can also be for self-enrichment.” Employees’ dependents, however, are required to be degree-seeking in order to acquire the benefits of the program.
Scott Blake, Director of Information Technology, was initially unaware of the program, but found it attractive once he learned of it. He has had three children enrolled at Finlandia, and has taken classes himself.
“Two of the three have completed four-year degrees here and the third is in his junior year,” Blake said. He then went on to explain how students who are eligible are still required to file financial-aid forms. Whatever aid the students would have been eligible for, from a federal or state-perspective, is transferred to the school, which underwrites the difference of the tuition and the student’s financial aid.
“In this case, it does not require the students to take out loans,” said Blake, “unless they exceed the limit on the program, which is a certain number of years or a certain number of full-time semesters, and at that point it is no longer free and they are paying for it. So there is an incentive for them to finish.”
Another academic program that Finlandia is involved with is the Tuition Exchange Program (TEP), which allows employees and their dependents to take classes in other private institutions, under the Council of Independent Colleges, with free tuition. As of 2011, there are around 400 universities who have joined the council and are partaking in TEP.
It’s limited in how many people they have to take,” explained Nick Stevens. “By us participating in this Council of Independent Colleges we are agreeing to take, at minimum, three people into our university free of charge from one of those other 400 institutions, and those institutions are agreeing to do the same.” Stevens then went on to clarify that if one or two apply, then, “we will have to take the one or two.” One TEP participant is Finlandia’s Controller, Lori Baakko. Her son studied at Finlandia for two years and has now transferred to the College of St. Scholastica, another university under TEP.
“He gets free tuition there because I work here,” Baakko explained, “Because of the Tuition Exchange Program which Finlandia is involved with.”
Lori Baakko graduated from Finlandia (then Suomi College) in 1985 with an Associate’s Degree in Accounting and is now working on a Bachelor’s. Finlandia is the only university she ever went to, but she loved it enough that she decided to work here. She is currently taking two classes for her major, which is the maximum number she can take per semester under TEP.
Despite having to pay for her final semester, and owing several loans to Alma College, Liz Gundlach is excited to be studying under the new psychology curriculum. She’ll be graduating in the spring of 2015, with little cost thanks to Finlandia, her mother, and the benefits of the Tuition Waiver Program.