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University Offers Enrollment Challenges

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In an effort to increase college enrollment among economically disadvantaged children, Syracuse University has announced that it will guarantee admission and financial aid to students from the Syracuse (N.Y.) City School District who meet the requirements of an incentive program.

The program is believed to be the first of its kind to be developed by a private university. A number of public universities guarantee admission to in-state students who meet grade and test-score requirements. And many institutions promise financial aid based on need to students who are admitted.

"The city can hold out a guarantee of education and hope for students who were falling by the wayside because the obstacle of cost seemed too severe,'' said Thomas F. Cummings Jr., vice president for enrollment management and continuing education at the university. "We're removing that obstacle.''

"This is a landmark move by Syracuse,'' said Lionel R. Meno, superintendent of schools. "Many disadvantaged students do well all through elementary and junior high school, but drop off when they reach high school because of a sense of hopelessness that they will never be able to afford college.''

The "Syracuse Challenge,'' as the program is called, will begin this fall with the city's 1,500 8th-grade students. Those who wish to participate must sign an agreement outlining the academic performance needed to qualify for admission.

Parents, too, must agree to "provide encouragement'' to the student, and consult with school officials on their children's performance. The program is voluntary, and students may discontinue their involvement at any time, university officials said.

The university and the district announced the program on May 27.

Grade Average of B Required

Students in the challenge program will agree to enroll in the district's college-preparatory program, earn a New York State Regents high-school diploma, and maintain an 85, or B, average for each year in high school. They must also achieve a combined score of 1,000 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or a score of 23 on the American College Testing Program. Those who fall below the B grade average will have to recoup the loss by the end of the following academic year.

The students also will be required to participate in remedial activities, if necessary, and in college-counseling programs. The district has agreed to develop remedial programs "as necessary,'' and to establish a mentoring program that would match current Syracuse students or instructors with the high-school students.

Mr. Cummings said the university's entrance requirements for other high-school graduates are slightly higher than those set in the challenge program. The average SAT scores of the freshman class is about 1,100. Nationally, college-bound high-school seniors score an average of 899.

"With a score of 1,000, and an 85 average, these students will be able to go to almost any college,'' Mr. Cummings said. "If they go somewhere else besides Syracuse, that's great for them.''

Syracuse is the fifth-largest private university in the United States, with a current enrollment of 12,000 undergraduates, and 4,500 full-time graduate students.

Total enrollment this year was 21,120, and about two-thirds of the students are from outside New York State. The freshman class averages around 3,100 students.

Not "Enrollment Management''

While acknowledging that colleges are competing for a shrinking number of college-age students, Mr. Cummings insisted the program "is not an enrollment-management plan.''

The school district, with a total enrollment of 25,000, sends about 60 percent of its graduates on to college, according to Mr. Meno. This year, 30 district students will be freshmen at Syracuse.

Mr. Meno said there is a wide socioeconomic disparity between the minority and white students in the city. About 85 percent of the families of black students have incomes of less than $19,000 a year, he said.

The university has promised to find financial aid for needy students in the challenge program.

This year, annual tuition costs $8,740, and room, board, and books cost about $4,500. By 1992, when students who are currently 8th graders graduate, the university will have developed a "Challenge Fund'' with contributions from local businesses to increase the financial aid available.

Mr. Cummings said the goal of the fund would be to "close the gap'' between the amount families can afford to pay and the amount the university is able to provide.

Usually, he said, a financial-aid package will consist of the family's contribution, an award from the university, and a loan for the extra amount not covered, or the "gap.''

"We can't guarantee that the students won't come out of college without debts, but they'll be first in line for financial aid,'' he said.

The university administered $55-million in financial aid this year, according to Mr. Cummings.

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