St. John's College assists students in financial hardship

St. John's College student Eric Fricke attended an ice cream social in September held by the Caritas Society, a group founded at the Annapolis college more than 40 years ago that assists students with financial hardships. At the time, Fricke attended solely for the free ice cream; he couldn't have imagined the group helping him through hardship.

But then the junior from Arizona said he had a series of "unfortunate economic times," stemming in part from his family's inability to sell their home. Though he listened to the group convey its purpose during the social, he never spoke to it about his problems. He was later surprised the group sent him an email announcing it would assist him with a grant for this year.


"I knew students who had been helped, and I found out that I, too, could benefit from their generosity," said Fricke.

This year the group has given out about $35,000 in grants to more than a dozen students, said Nancy Eagle Lindley, president of the Caritas Society board of directors. The group holds several on-campus events to reach out to the St. John's community, including a luncheon on Oct. 18 and a fundraiser next month.


Students are still struggling to cope with the high costs of college and the effects of the recent economic recession. Tuition at St. John's, a private liberal arts college known for its great-books curriculum, is $22,277 a semester.

"Since the great economic fiasco of 2008, the need issue has escalated unbelievably on the part of the families," Lindley said. "Families just don't have the means. This has put tremendous pressure on the college in supporting the needs of the students. In the last couple of years, we've really seen a tremendous need."

Lindley said the group was founded in 1969 as a women's organization that sought to strengthen ties between the college and the Annapolis community. She said that the group, which now comprises Annapolis-area residents, became a nonprofit organization two years later and has been giving grants each year since then.

"They began to become familiar with the students and the many financial hardships the students were undergoing in order to attend school," said Lindley. "They developed a program of giving back to the college for all that the college had given them, providing financial aid grants to students who were in danger of having to leave school because they could not meet their college expenses." Men were admitted to the group in the 1990s, Lindley said.


Among the grants the group has given this year were $3,000 each to seven students to help pay college bills; the funds go directly into the students' accounts at the college rather being given directly to the students. "They have almost enough money but not quite enough, and we fill in that gap," Lindley said.

The group also gave five students $400 grants for books required for courses, offered a one-year scholarship in honor of the 75th anniversary of the school's liberal arts curriculum and a scholarship through the school's endowment fund.

The total amount of funds the group will give this year is about $35,000 to 18 students, and those in need are identified by the school's financial aid office, Lindley said.

Jennifer Dalton, a St. John's senior from Michigan, said the group gave her money this year as she struggled from financial hardship stemming in part from her mother's repeatedly being forced to change jobs, including one that offered lower pay.

"St. John's saved my senior year," said Dalton. "Knowing they were designed to specifically meet needs of students, particularly those in my condition, I was genuinely grateful to them for that gift."

Fricke said he has known students who received grants to pay for medical expenses from injuries. He said that the grant has relieved his worries for both this year and after graduation.

"When you're thinking of how much you're racking up in debt to come to school," said Fricke, "and whether or not they're subsidized by the government when you're going to have to start paying them after you graduate, any sum of money to someone coming out of college is a burden.

"Particularly when the job market is unsure and you don't know what kind of paying job you can get," Fricke added. "Any little bit that the school or that society can give you is a great joy."