UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When she dreamed of attending college, Mariatou Bah envisioned the prototypical experience of living on campus and immersing herself in the many educational, extracurricular and social opportunities available to residential students.
“Being able to live on campus gives me a lot of opportunities to do things and meet people,” Bah said.
While she wanted a residential experience, Bah also was concerned about affordability. The North Philadelphia native ultimately chose to study at Penn State Brandywine after she was offered a LiveOn Student Success Grant, which helps to offset a need-based student’s cost of living on campus.
The grant program, launched in 2021, is designed to support need-based students residing on Penn State campuses. Eligible students each receive an average of approximately $3,000 per year toward room and board. The grant is a four-year award as long as the student continues to live on campus.
For Bah, the grant made the difference in her decision to attend Penn State and fulfill her aspiration to live on a college campus and fully experience the extracurricular and social opportunities offered in her residence hall and across campus.
“Without it, I probably would not have come to Penn State,” she said, adding that the commute from her North Philly home to the Brandywine campus is approximately 50 minutes to an hour in one direction. “I probably would have attended a college that’s closer to home.”
That’s a sentiment many Penn State officials said they have heard, including Elizabeth Kearns, manager of Housing, Food Service and Ancillary Services at Penn State Brandywine.
“When I talk to prospective and admitted students, living on campus is more than a convenience of not having a daily commute,” Kearns said. “Students are seeking a quality of life, and more importantly, life and academic experiences that allow them to learn, grow and engage outside the classroom — things like being able to connect with peers while living, dining, socializing, and attending campus activities and events. The grant helps to address students’ financial needs and fulfill their desires to attend Penn State.”
Cheryl Fabrizi, assistant vice president for Penn State Housing and Food Services, explained the program’s intent is to support need-based students like Bah, who may receive financial aid from state and/or federal sources, along with tuition awards, but still need help in meeting the total cost of attendance, which includes living on campus.
Grant recipients receive eight consecutive semesters of support — approximately $3,000 per academic year. Fabrizi explained when the award is multiplied over four years at Penn State, a LiveOn grant is worth approximately $12,000 in total support — roughly equivalent to a free year of room and board.
To support the program, Penn State Housing and Food Services is providing approximately $2.4 million annually to recipients at eight residential Penn State Commonwealth Campuses — Abington, Beaver, Behrend, Berks, Brandywine, Greater Allegheny, Hazleton and Mont Alto — and the University Park campus.
To be considered for the LiveOn Student Success grant program, a student provides information via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when applying to Penn State, which demonstrates need for financial aid, including federal and/or state, as well as institutional aid. Student recipients also must maintain full-time enrollment and meet other criteria, including credit completion and academic performance.
Fabrizi said there is no application required for the LiveOn grant program — Penn State’s Office of Student Aid reviews each student’s FAFSA and undergraduate admissions application and identifies students who demonstrate financial need. She added that the LiveOn Student Success Grant can be combined with additional aid, including federal, state and/or institutional, as well as direct student loans.
Karen Kreger, senior director of housing and food services for Commonwealth Campuses, said LiveOn is one of Penn State Housing and Food Services’ efforts to promote students’ academic success and help address housing and food insecurity on campus.
“These are students who are academically high performing,” Kreger said. “They simply need additional financial help to assure they are able to pursue a Penn State degree.”
Daniel Pinchot, director of enrollment at Penn State Beaver, and Jeremy Lindner, director of housing and food services at Penn State Beaver and Penn State Greater Allegheny, both said the new grant program has made a measurable impact with students at their campuses.
“The grant doesn’t close the entire gap in cost of attendance, but it does make it more affordable to students and their families,” Pinchot said.
As for Bah, she has already taken full advantage of Brandywine’s offerings. She’s studying political science and has joined the campus multicultural club, the Black Student Union and the Muslim Student Association.
Bah said none of this would have been possible without the LiveOn grant program.
“The LiveOn grant absolutely helped me,” she said.
More information on the LiveOn Student Success Grant Program can be found online.