By the Numbers: MCLAs Lower-than-Average Student Debt

April 17, 2019

For years, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) has prided itself not only on its accessibility, but also its affordability. Now, new data confirms that those who complete a bachelor’s degree at MCLA do indeed graduate with substantially less debt than those who earn their degrees at other state universities in the Commonwealth.

In 2018, the average debt accumulated by bachelor’s degree completers at MCLA was $23,603 upon graduation. In comparison, the average debt amount for graduating students who earned a bachelor’s degree at one of the other campuses within the state university system was $27,284 – a difference of nearly $3,700.

According to Bonnie Howland, director of student financial services, “We’re able to keep loan debt down not only because we keep our tuition and fees low, but also due to the number of scholarships and grants students may qualify for. We utilize and stretch every dollar. It’s just being smart about how we spend.”

Because MCLA does its utmost to provide an affordable education to its students, the campus implements a robust fundraising effort. In addition, a growing number of loyal alumni give generously throughout the year, and friends of the College donate because they see firsthand the benefits an MCLA education has on both individuals and communities.

MCLA professors and administrators alike work diligently to secure grants for scholarship funding, and the Office of Financial Aid is dedicated to making the most of every penny it receives, Howland said.

Scholarships are particularly vital at MCLA, where about half of the students are eligible to receive a Pell Grant. MCLA also attracts a significant number of students who are the first in their families to go to college. Over the past three years, 45 percent of entering first-time, full-time undergraduates have been first-generation students.

As of April 2019, MCLA offered nearly 100 private scholarships. Each of these scholarships have different requirements, which may include a student’s major, hometown, grade point average (GPA), and areas of interest or hobbies, to name but a few criteria.

Known for its close-knit community and professors who know their students well, MCLA takes that same personal approach when it comes to each undergraduate’s financial aid review. Financial Aid officers delve into each student’s file to determine how they might best match up with the requirements of one or more scholarships, to keep the cost of their education as low as possible.

Some of this scholarship funding comes from past (and present!) college presidents, faculty and administrators, as well as various graduating classes where multiple alumni contribute with their classmates. Other scholarships are set up by local businesses, or are part of an endowment established by family members in memory of their loved one, who may have been a community member, a graduate of the College, or even one of the region’s state legislators.

Take, for example, the Grace S. Hampel Scholarship Fund. “Grace Hampel didn’t really have anything to do with MCLA, but her sister, Evelyn Hampel George, attended. Grace put MCLA in her will because she saw how much her sister loved the school,” said Marc Morandi, MCLA’s advancement operations officer.

In 2017-18, private scholarships helped 215 MCLA students, and 203 benefited in 2016-17.  So far this 2018-19 academic year, about 220 students have received a Foundation scholarship.  These scholarships, which start at a minimum $500, on average provide about $1,250 to each student. Qualifying students may receive multiple scholarships.

The campus also provides more than 20 scholarships. These include merit scholarships, some of which are renewable. Merit scholarships are awarded to between 350 and 400 students each year, upon their acceptance to the College.

At MCLA, it pays to study one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Since fall 2014, 88 first-year and transfer students who are enrolled in STEM programs have taken advantage of a scholarship awarded to MCLA from the National Science Foundation, which covers the cost of their tuition and fees.

Through the Internship Incentive Grant program, students serve paid internships which helps to offset the cost of their education. State funds allocated to this program are matched dollar for dollar by the MCLA Foundation.

Because many alumni enjoyed internship experiences as students, they, too, donate to the College’s internship fund. And, according to Morandi, some of the companies that offer internships to MCLA students donate money to the College to contribute to the matching fund to help the campus provide them with interns.

Students are eligible to receive one award from the Internship Incentive Grant program, up to a maximum $5,000. The average $2,000 award covers about 20 percent of in-state tuition and fees. Established in April 2013, the program has provided internship grants for 53 students in 2018-19, thus far.

Approximately 15 students each year benefit from one of two renewable scholarships; The Alice S. Ayling Scholarship Foundation and The Charles Irwin Travelli Fund, both of which selected MCLA to receive scholarship funding. Through the Travelli and Ayling Scholarship Program, students are assisted by an award of about $4,400 each per semester. This covers about 80 percent of in-state tuition and fees; 45 percent for out-of-state students, and 76 percent for Massachusetts residents.

The College’s capacity to provide students with grant and scholarship financial aid continues to expand.

As of 2007, MCLA held approximately 35 endowed funds. Twelve years later, that number increased to 111. Although not all of these endowments include scholarships, “Every year there’s been more growth,” Morandi said.

New donors regularly choose to support MCLA because they see that every dollar that is donated makes a significant impact on the students’ lives, Morandi said. “We continue to get two or three more scholarships each year. Because this is a close-knit community, if you didn’t attend college here, you know someone who did. If you’re looking for something to do with your money, you look to MCLA to set up a scholarship.”

About MCLA

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth’s public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.

For more information about MCLA, visit Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @mcla_edu. 


Bernadette Alden, (413) 662-5203,