California Universities are considering “Punishment Fees” to inspire students to complete their degrees.

An another state, administrators at one college are taking more of a “carrot” that a “stick” approach. Alexandra Tilsley of Inside Higher Ed has the details.

Marcia Hawkins, the first-year president of Union College in Kentucky, feels a special connection with this year’s freshmen, who started at Union the same time she did. So when she decided to host a Christmas party for the class, she knew she wanted to give them something really memorable.

The night of the Christmas party, each student received a stocking. Each stocking contained a few pieces of candy and a miniature scroll, tied up with ribbon and imprinted with a script-like font. Unrolled, the scroll announced the student’s true present: the promise of a tuition-free final semester for those who earned good grades and got involved in college life.

“There were obvious gasps in the audience,” Hawkins said, describing how she told students what was written on the scroll. “While some of them probably don’t really get the significance of that, because they don’t pay for it, there were several who I felt really understood what the opportunity was for them.”

The proposition may be unprecedented. Although some colleges and universities have offered to freeze tuition levels for students making sufficient progress toward a degree, and others offer a free fifth year for select students, offering to waive tuition entirely seems to be a new step.

The free semester isn’t automatic, of course. To qualify, students must participate in designated “Inaugural Class” events, participate in at least one extracurricular activity, remain enrolled full-time, perform at least 75 hours of community service, and maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above. Students who meet the activity requirements but whose GPAs falls between 3.0 and 3.49 will have 75 percent of their final semester’s tuition paid for; students with GPAs between 2.5 and 2.9 will get half-tuition.

Union has long struggled with retention, Hawkins said; on average, only 50 percent of the freshman class, which starts around 240 students, returns for a second year.