A small private college in northeast Iowa is offering a tuition-free fifth year to all full-time students enrolled for the upcoming fall and spring semesters. Wartburg president Darrel Colson said the idea began to germinate this past spring as a way to help students who’re missing out on what he calls the “Wartburg Experience.”

“We had to make the pivot back in March and stop so many of the activities that are important to students for the whole spring,” Colson saod, “and then as we looked toward this coming year we realized that so many of the activities important to students are going to have to be at the very least modified and, in some cases, they’re not going to happen at all.”

Colson says many students enroll at Wartburg because of the “full package” of activities, like music and sports as well as work and service experiences.

“I’m a former professor and so there’s a part of me that wants to say that what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the academic environment is the most important part,” Colson said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “But it’s interesting, our students don’t really draw a distinction between the two. For them, it’s a seamless whole.”

Wartburg’s fall semester will begin earlier than usual, on Wednesday, August 26th and classroom instruction will conclude at Thanksgiving. As of today, Colson expects up to 1600 students to start the fall semester. That’s higher enrollment than a year ago.

“Every week with this coronavirus brings so many new challenges,” Colson said. “We fully expect a lot of students to show up on that first day, but we know that things can happen between now and then.”

The free fifth year of tuition is offered to all Wartburg students enrolled in the 2020-21 school year, not just seniors. Colson said he’s not sure how many will choose that option.

“We don’t anticipate that we’ll be overrun and have to hire additional faculty. We think that the numbers will be manageable,” he said. “Even if they’re not, we’re committed to this project and this opportunity.”

The very first class of Wartburg students met in Michigan — in 1852. After moving to other cities in Iowa and Illinois, Wartburg settled in Waverly in 1935. Colson has been the institution’s president since 2009.