HANCOCK - Before graduating from Hancock Central High School in 2009, Tyler Hauswirth considered going to Northern Michigan University, but after learning about the Hancock Award, which would pay for tuition at Finlandia University, he changed his mind.
"I couldn't pass it up," he said of the opportunity to go to college tuition free.
The Hancock Award is part of an agreement wherein Finlandia took possession of the former Hancock Middle School building on Quincy Street and the former Condon Field, now MacAfee Field, where the high school students still play football, in exchange for "tuition remission" for students of Hancock Public Schools who meet Finlandia's requirements and are accepted to attend the university.
Hauswirth, who was a member of the first cohort to go to Finlandia using the Hancock Award, said he was responsible for only about $200 per year for books and fees, but that provided little problem.
"My parents were more than happy to pay for it," he said.
Hauswirth estimated it would have cost him $48,000 to $60,000 to go to NMU for four years.
Making the transition from HCHS to Finlandia posed no problems for him, said Hauswirth, who majored in accounting, and will graduate in December.
"I enjoyed it," he said. "It was a nice change from high school."
Hauswirth said he chose not to live in university housing, but rather had an apartment off campus.
Attending Finlandia was a pleasant experience for him, Hauswirth said, particularly because of the small class sizes.
"If I had any questions, I could ask a teacher," he said. "They always had time to help you."
John Sanregret, HCHS principal, said Hauswirth's experience at Finlandia is what he is hoping for all students who take part in the program.
In the four years of the Hancock Award, Sanregret said few HCHS students had to provide their own money.
"We only had one group that had to pay anything (in 2010)," he said.
Sanregret said the Hancock Award in many cases is a "$100,000 blank check" for the four years a student may attend Finlandia.
The university budgets $100,000 per year per cohort. Any federal aid for which a student is eligible based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid goes to Finlandia. The same is true for any state aid for which a student is eligible.
Sanregret said the Hancock Award is an excellent example of two local entities working together for the benefit of students and the community.
"This is a life-changing opportunity for our students," he said.
However, Sanregret said it is frustrating to him more students aren't taking advantage of the award, which has a March 1 deadline for applying, and requires students have a 2.0 grade point average when they graduate from HCHS.
"I truly believe the program would sell itself," he said. "This is a no-brainer."
More aggressive marketing of the program may be necessary to get more students involved, Sanregret said. Currently, he has a newsletter, which provides information about the program, there are meetings with the seniors and Finlandia has an open house about the program.
"Certainly, the word is out there," he said.
Sanregret said he thinks Finlandia administration and faculty are very involved with the Hancock Award program.
"The leadership at Finlandia University is outstanding," he said.
Sanregret said he expects more cooperative arrangements between Hancock Public Schools and Finlandia in the future.
Sandra Turnquist, Finlandia director of financial aid, said 25 HCHS students were in the first cohort taking advantage of the Hancock Award, but not all have made it through the university, yet.
"So far, 10 graduated," she said.
Turnquist said eight more will graduate in December or June, three transferred to other institutions and one entered the workforce.
As of April, Turnquist said 85 HCHS students have taken advantage of the Hancock Award. For the 2013-14 school year, there are expected to be 57 HCHS students at Finlandia, with 25 of those being 2013 graduates of the high school.
Turnquist said the program is a good opportunity for HCHS students, and she hopes more take advantage of it.
"These students are benefiting immensely," she said.
The Hancock Award program is working well, so far, Turnquist said, and Finlandia administration and faculty have no regrets about initiating it.
"Absolutely not," she said.
Hauswirth said his advisor at Finlandia is looking for a job for him in Green Bay, where he thinks there may be more opportunities for an accountant.
He doesn't regret at all his decision to go to Finlandia on the Hancock Award, Hauswirth said.
"It was one of the better decisions I made in my life," he said. "I would definitely recommend it to (other Hancock Central High School students)."