A new scholarship removes tuition cost from the equation. Called 253 PLU Bound, it is available to first-year students starting next fall. It targets students enrolled at the 61 high schools in the local 253 area code.

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There are four in-state schools on David Njuguna’s list of colleges he’s thinking about attending after he graduates from high school in Federal Way.

Pacific Lutheran University made the cut, but the junior at Todd Beamer High School acknowledged he considers the private college a backup plan because of high tuition.

Some of his classmates echo similar opinions, noting that tuition plays a major role in determining to which colleges they apply, regardless of a school’s academic offerings.

“I’m not trying to stack up a load of post-college debt,” sophomore Koby Okezie said.

A new scholarship at PLU removes cost from the equation. Called 253 PLU Bound, it is available to first-year students starting next fall. It targets students enrolled at the 61 high schools in the local area code.

The university promises to cover the cost of tuition of all eligible students for four years through a combination of federal, state, and PLU grants and scholarships and the state’s College Bound Scholarship program.

Njuguna said he liked hearing that the scholarship is not limited to a small handful of recipients.

“That it’s not competitive, that’s unheard of,” he said.

More students eligible

PLU already has partnerships with area school districts to bring local students to campus, but officials say the 253 scholarship opens the door to significantly more students, including low-income students.

Because the school has not offered this option before, PLU admission officials don’t know how many students will apply and have not set a goal, said Melody Ferguson, director of admissions.

“We are committed to our local students and will make it work whether it is five, 15 or 500,” she said in an email.

The school will redirect money from its scholarship endowment to cover the 253 scholarship, Ferguson said.

The University of Puget Sound and University of Washington, Tacoma, have similar programs to increase the number of South Sound students on their campuses.

PLU aims to boost its number of students who call the South Sound home. While about 70 percent of the student body hails from Western Washington, less than 25 percent hails from the 253 area code, Ferguson said.

Of its 3,000 undergraduate students, 700 graduated from local high schools, she said.

PLU offers financial aid to most of those students, totaling $13.2 million annually, according to school-enrollment data.

PLU admission staff members visited area high schools in mid-December to spread the word about the new scholarship.

Who’s eligible

Speaking to a group of about 30 students at Todd Beamer, Ferguson explained eligibility requirements.

“See that $37,950? You can cross that off and replace it with a zero,” Ferguson said of tuition. “That is what this scholarship does for people. Every year, for four years.”

Additional financial aid through work study and loans may also be applied to pay for room, meals, books and other expenses.

This academic year, students not living with their parents paid $51,838 for tuition, room and meals, books and other personal expenses.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must have a minimum 3.7 weighted cumulative grade-point average and attend a high school in the 253 area code.

They also must meet the criteria of the state’s College Bound Scholarship. That program, which recruits students at the middle-school level, is geared toward making college attainable and sets academic benchmarks to help students achieve that goal. It also makes college financial assistance available to students who meet eligibility requirements.

Although the new scholarship is available to graduating seniors, the PLU admission staff also hopes to reach younger students just starting to think about college, Ferguson said. It also hopes to reach low-income students.

“We have seen some students have slipping grades,” she said. “We hope to inspire them to keep their grades up.”

PLU has been generous in the past with financial aid for local students, said Fonda Mongrain, career and college specialist at Todd Beamer. The 253 scholarship continues that commitment, she said.

“It’s going to bring awareness to our students that private school is affordable,” she said. “I want to keep them with as little debt as possible.”