(Reading, PA) — Alvernia University welcomed one of its largest and most diverse freshman classes in recent years this fall, with nearly 400 students starting their higher education journeys — many the first in their families to attend college. Steeped in its Franciscan mission, which includes providing educational opportunity to the underserved, Alvernia each year continues to support first-time, first generation students who demonstrate greater need than previous students.
Alvernia has awarded more than $6 million to incoming class members to meet their financial needs. This is more than double the amount that was provided just five years ago.
Seeing a shift over the years from parents taking on debt to more students taking on debt, staff guides families through the financial planning process. “We know student debt is a huge issue among our student population, so we work very closely with families to create individualized financial plans to ensure access to funds to support all four years of college,” said Rebecca Finn Kenney, dean of admissions and student financial planning. “An important dimension of our mission is to help those who would otherwise not be able to afford a college education,” she added.
Much of this aid is targeted to local students, even as Alvernia now attracts one-third of its freshman class from beyond Pennsylvania. Major awards — such as the university’s Shirley and Joseph Boscov Scholarships, targeting top students from Berks County, and the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program —both initiated in the last five years, help make the dream of completing a college education a reality.
Such is the case for Alvernia student Sarah Verneret, a Class of 2019 Reading Collegiate Scholar, who received one of the four-year, full-tuition scholarships for Reading residents. While her family stressed education and she was an excellent student at Reading High School, it didn’t seem likely that college would follow.
“It was just really disappointing and traumatic, because it (college) was always something I wanted and my family always wanted, but we didn’t know how to make it happen,” explained Verneret. “It didn’t seem like it would be possible. When we found out I was going to get the scholarship we were all so happy,” she said. “And my family was so proud.”
About 98% of Alvernia students receive some type of financial assistance, and 19 in the freshman class received four-year, full-tuition scholarships.
The investment in students is paying off, as the university is experiencing some of its highest retention and satisfaction rates among students. More than 80 percent of first-year students return the next year to continue their education, well above the average for peer institutions. More than 90% of Alvernia students report they are satisfied or highly satisfied with the quality of their education, and 93-97% of recent graduates are employed full-time or are in graduate school within six months of graduation.