Mastery Charter's offer of 90 percent college tuition scholarship was 100 percent wrong

Mastery student Delina Adams , Albright-bound, was named an Affinity Scholar, but the amount was about $60,000 short. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Mastery student Delina Adams , Albright-bound, was named an Affinity Scholar, but the amount was about $60,000 short. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 24, 2014

When Delina Adams found out she'd been named an Affinity Scholar, she started screaming.

Her mother ran down the stairs of their Northeast Philadelphia home. "She thought I was dying," Delina said.

A few days after the phone call from her college adviser, Delina held an official letter from Mastery Charter Schools, dated April 2, confirming she was one of its 35 Affinity Scholars.

The letter suggested to the family a great cloud had been lifted.

"You will receive over $150,000 in financial aid (inclusive of scholarships and grants) - a discount of over 90%," it read. "These financial aid packages may include a small amount of loans, which will leave you with nothing to pay right now."

Elated, Delina decided to commit to Albright College, a small private school in Reading, a choice made easier by the understanding that she'd be receiving so much financial aid.

Turns out, that understanding was a big misunderstanding.

On April 30, while Delina was recovering from surgery for a broken forearm, her parents - Frank and Othed - received a call from Mastery asking them to come in for a meeting.

There had been a "miscommunication," an official at the school put it - one that would leave the Adamses having to come up with $60,000 or so to pay for Delina's Albright education.

Chanell Bates, Mastery's director of postsecondary initiatives, told them they hadn't shown enough financial need, based on federal forms they submitted.

Bates, they said, told them their expected family contribution, or EFC, was $64,000.

The girl's parents were dumbfounded. Neither parent has a college degree, and neither of their older children went to college, so the financial-aid application process was unfamiliar to them.

Together, the Adamses have a nice income - more than $100,000 a year. Othed Adams works in human resources for the First Judicial District of Philadelphia, and her husband manages 13 people at Pragmatics Inc., where he rose from file clerk.

They drove home, and Delina's mother broke the news to her.

"It hurt" Delina said.

Delina has been at Mastery's Lenfest campus in Old City since seventh grade and has a thick stack of awards to show for it. She was the starting point guard on the basketball team, part of the National Honor Society, a member of the student government, and a Student Ambassador for Lenfest.

She graduated Friday with a 3.76 GPA. Her family loves Mastery.

Mastery officials told her financial-aid packages are up to the colleges. Mastery's role in its partnership with Albright and several other schools is introducing students to the colleges and later providing mentoring and other forms of assistance to help with the transition to college.

The letter Mastery sent out to all winners was meant to represent the type of aid that Affinity students could get, officials said.

They also said Delina's situation had been a learning experience for them. The program is in its second year.

In the future, they said, they will try to more clearly reflect the financial benefits of being an Affinity Scholar, and how a family's financial position can affect those benefits.

Tuition, room, board, and additional fees add up to $48,620 for the 2014-15 school year at Albright, whose officials say they never agreed to a 90 percent discount.

The college awarded Delina a $33,173 package, which includes a $17,500 annual Provost Scholarship and $5,500 in Stafford loans, which have low fixed interest rates.

Delina will still attend Albright - she's already gotten workout plans for the women's basketball team - which she plans to walk onto - not to mention the T-shirts. But her family isn't exactly sure how they'll finance the more than $15,000 they're left to pay this year.

"It gave her a false sense of comfort, going to college and being a little less in debt," Othed Adams said.


CFabris@phillynews.com

215-854-5607

@CaseyFabris

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