Towson University announced yesterday that it will offer automatic admission and at least a $4,000 scholarship to all Baltimore public school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.
University officials say they want to increase the number of Baltimore students who attend Towson. Only 25 in this year's freshmen class were graduates of city public schools, according to university officials.
"We're trying to be good neighbors, and we hope that it will improve our diversity on campus," said Louise Shulack, Towson's director of admissions.
Several area schools offer incentives to Baltimore students, who are often minorities from lower-income families. The Johns Hopkins University recently awarded four Polytechnic Institute students full scholarships as part of its new Baltimore Scholars program. The University of Maryland, College Park has a similar program.
Towson officials have been planning the Top 10% Scholars Program for several months because the number of Baltimore students attending the institute was "unacceptably low," said Lonnie McNew, associate vice president for enrollment services.
Towson officials purposely left the offer requirements vague. There is no reference to how long students must have attended a Baltimore school or whether they are required to live in the city. University officials said they doubted students would try to take advantage of the program by transferring to a city public school for a year.
McNew said requirements might change in the future. "It's a pilot program, so we'll see what happens," he said
University officials decided to use class ranking as a barometer instead of GPA or SAT scores, in part because they believe ranking will make it easier to attract Baltimore students.
In general, the average Towson student had a 3.4 GPA in high school and SAT scores between 1020 and 1150, according to Shulack. "Sometimes, top 10 percent students don't reach those numbers," she said.
Towson officials said they have had trouble attracting city graduates because those students often believe they cannot afford the tuition or don't know anyone who has attended an institution of higher education.
Towson administrators hope to attract up to 50 Baltimore public school graduates next fall and to expand the program to 100 students or more.
The $4,000 scholarship will not cover all of Towson's tuition, which is about $6,700 a year. But school officials said students can apply for further financial aid. "We're committed to providing excellent follow-up," McNew said.
Towson also plans to introduce a program next semester aimed at Baltimore County public school graduates, even though it typically attracts 800 or more such students a year. It likely will target county schools that do not send many students to Towson, officials said.
McNew said he hopes to eventually offer similar programs throughout the state for high-achieving students. "These are the type of kids we're trying to attract," he said.
Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.