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Glen Cove's Webb Institute to start contributing to room and board costs

R. Keith Michel, president of Webb Institute in

R. Keith Michel, president of Webb Institute in Glen Cove, at the campus last week. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Glen Cove’s Webb Institute next month is to start contributing thousands of dollars to the room and board costs of many of its middle- and low-income students in a move that, combined with the college’s free-tuition policy, makes the school a national leader in reducing financial barriers to higher education, experts say.

Several potential students have told officials at the small engineering college that they didn’t attend Webb because they couldn’t afford the more than $15,000 a year in room and board, said Lauren Carballo, director of admissions and student affairs.

“We want to make sure we’re accessible so that any student who is passionate about our academic program here at Webb, and has the grades to attend, is able to do so,” Carballo said.

In the long term, the room and board subsidy will increase the diversity of Webb’s student body, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Economic and racial diversity of all sorts can only be enacted if we take into account the realities of people’s lives,” said Pasquerella, former president of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. “It’s quite remarkable they’re doing this.”

The program, funded for its first three years by a $250,000 grant from the Hampton Bays-based Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, will pay an average $4,000 to $5,000 a year in housing and food costs for at least 20 percent of its 104 students, Webb president R. Keith Michel said.

Eligible families typically would have incomes of $125,000 a year or less, Carballo said.

Webb, at which all students pursue a double major in naval architecture and marine engineering, plans to continue the program after the grant expires with donations from alumni and others, Michel said.

 The school has sometimes helped pay for room and board to a limited number of students, but “this will greatly expand what we do,” Michel said.

The college will still require students to apply for federally subsidized loans or grants for room and board, and their families to pay an income-based contribution based on a federal financial-aid formula. Webb will pay the remaining amount, officials said.

Louis Bock, 20, an incoming junior at Webb from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, said he was happy to hear of the initiative. He is working a landscaping job this summer to help pay room and board costs and already has accumulated $8,000 in college debt.

“Minimizing that [the debt] makes life easier in the end,” he said.

Webb is one of only about a dozen U.S. colleges with free tuition for all students, although a number of colleges and universities offer tuition-free education for many middle- and low-income families, Pasquerella said. Fewer offer significant assistance with room and board costs, said Matthew Chingos, director of the education policy program of the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.

Michel said the Webb initiative hearkens to the school’s first decades after being founded by shipbuilder William H. Webb in 1889 with its focus on financially needy students. The college, funded primarily by an endowment, started charging room and board in the late 1960s, Michel said.

“There’s a strong desire in our alumni base to return to our roots to make Webb affordable for all,” Michel said.

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