Why Are Some Colleges Slashing Their Tuition?
In recent years, some private colleges have begun slashing tuition rates for their undergraduate students, some by up to 50 percent. In the higher education world, these dramatic drops are called “tuition resets.” Reasons for resets are as individual as the colleges themselves, but generally colleges cut tuition to be transparent about fees and to attract more students, reported a 2015 analysis by economist Lucie Lapovsky on eight colleges that reset tuition.
According to Paul Hassen, director of communications and marketing at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), a tuition reset is one tool among many used to recruit students to apply.
Private colleges have long offered qualifying students discounts in the form of scholarships or grants, and most families don’t pay “sticker price.” But determining in advance what a college might offer can be complicated, and 65 percent of students eliminate colleges based on published price without further research, revealed a 2018 Sallie Mae survey, How America Values College. Colleges know determining net price is complex. A tuition reset strategy communicates transparency and affordability to families. Since 2015, some 23 colleges have reset tuition, according to NAICU, with five more reducing tuition for 2019-20.
With a lower published tuition price, however, colleges award financial aid at a correspondingly lower rate. Makes sense, right? Lower cost equals less need. For a full-pay student, a tuition reset helps enormously. However, students who qualify for aid likely won’t see the same advertised reduction. “Lower-income students are already getting the best price the college can offer after financial aid is applied,” Hassen said. Remember, too, a tuition reset isn’t a tuition freeze. Expect tuition to increase incrementally each year. Also, other costs, such as room and board and mandatory fees, could increase.
Here’s a list of 15 private colleges with recently reduced tuition.
Location: Reading, Pennsylvania
Current tuition: $44,206
2019-20 tuition: $24,500
Albright’s tuition reset takes effect next fall. The college’s cost of attendance of $57,376 will be “right-sized” to $38,122, after a 45 percent drop in tuition. Albright will scale its financial aid accordingly. Room, board and mandatory fees will increase $452, so some current students could see an increase in their overall cost. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Albright is a multi-faith college of 1,650 students that offers a traditional liberal arts curriculum.
Location: Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
Current tuition: $46,940
2019-20 tuition: $32,000
Elizabethtown College is reducing tuition by 32 percent next fall in a new “Tuition Transparency” initiative. Cost of attendance will decrease from $58,640 to approximately $43,710 for tuition, room and board. Like other colleges, Elizabethtown will continue to offer merit-based scholarships and need-based grants scaled to the reduced tuition cost (97 percent of students receive some aid). A small liberal arts college of 1,671 students, Elizabethtown is known for its tradition of “educating for service,” with an emphasis on experiential learning, service learning and cross-cultural perspectives.
Location: Elmira, New York
Current tuition: $41,900
2019-20 tuition: $35,400
Elmira College’s tuition reset for undergraduates represents a 15 percent decrease from 2018 tuition. Plus, standard room and board fees for 2019 will be $12,500, for a total of $47,900 in direct costs (tuition, room, board). The school will continue to offer scholarships and grants (99 percent of students receive something), but the goal is to shift from the high tuition/high discount model to increase enrollment.
A small private college of 938 students, Elmira is notable for owning Quarry Farm, where Mark Twain spent summers writing his famous classics. Today it’s used as a residence for visiting Twain scholars.
St. John’s College
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico (pictured) and Annapolis, Maryland
Current tuition: $52,203
2019-20 tuition: $35,000
St. John’s two campuses will reduce tuition by 32 percent, or $24,203, for 2019-20. The new cost of attendance, with room, board and fees, will total approximately $49,300, and students will still receive scholarships and grants to reduce the average cost to $24,800 (depending on a student’s financial profile). One of the 45 Colleges that Change Lives, St. John’s has a student body of 900 between the two campuses and is distinctive for its single curriculum (no majors here) centered on reading the great books of Western Civilization.
Location: Columbia, Missouri
Current tuition: $30,750
2019-20 tuition: $22,500
Launching the Stephens Solution College Affordability Plan, Stephens College will drop tuition by $8,250 for 2019 so no student pays more than $22,500 for tuition. Total direct costs for this year (room/board, tuition, fees) are approximately $41,582, depending on room choice, but next year will drop to $33,332. Students who already receive financial aid might not see a change. Founded in 1833, Stephens is the second oldest women’s college in the country, with 648 students. It’s known for being one of the pet-friendliest campuses in the country.
University of the Cumberlands
Location: Williamsburg, Kentucky
Current tuition: $23,000
2019-20 tuition: $9,875
This small Baptist private college of 1,366 undergraduates is dropping its tuition by 57 percent for undergraduates (its 9,000 graduate students won’t experience the tuition cut). Current total cost is $32,000 and in 2019-20 drops to $19,175. Eighty-two percent of students attending the Cumberlands hail from the Appalachian mountain region. Its original mission was to provide higher education to an underserved area, for which Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller provided financial support.
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
2017-18 tuition: $28,820
2018-19 tuition: $19,900
2019-20 tuition: $20,500
In the fall of 2018, Avila University, a small private Catholic university with 1,030 undergraduate students reduced tuition by 33 percent to $19,900. That rate included books and campus fees. For 2019-20, direct costs (tuition, room, board) are set to be $27,200, which includes a slight increase in tuition from 2018. The Avila Promise also guarantees research or internship experience, four-year graduation (if students do their part), a monetary travel award of up to $1,000 for access to a global experience, and a pledge that tuition won’t increase more than three percent per year. Ninety-eight percent of students also receive grants or scholarships.
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
2017-18 cost of attendance: $28,630
2018-19 cost of attendance: $22,800
Benedict College, a 148-year-old historically black college with 2,100 students, reset its tuition and fees in Fall 2018, reducing cost of attendance by $5,830, comparable to its 2010-11 rate. The new rate of $22,800 includes room and board, tuition, and fees. A non-boarding student pays $16,600. Benedict is ranked as one of the top colleges for creating social mobility, and offers high-demand degree programs in subjects like computer science, engineering, cyber security, and sport management. Its Career Pathways Program equips students for a technology driven, highly competitive workplace.
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
2017-18 tuition: $35,840
2018-19 tuition: $17,650
In an eye-popping shift, the small, private Birmingham-Southern College slashed its tuition and fees by 51 percent for Fall 2018 in a bid to grow enrollment and be more transparent. With a student population of 1,283, the current direct costs (tuition, room, board) total around $30,000. Because more than 90 percent of students don’t pay published price, many continue to pay what they paid before with applied financial aid and scholarships. Affiliated with the United Methodist church, BSC is located three miles from downtown Birmingham on a 192-acre campus.
Location: Buffalo, New York
2017-18 tuition: $34,966
2018-19 tuition: $27,000
2019-20 tuition: $27,940
Canisius was another small private college to reset tuition in 2018-19, dropping it by 23 percent. The college also reduced its residence hall fees by $2,000. Total direct costs for 2018-19 were $39,788. Like students at other small colleges that have reset tuition, the effect will vary for Canisius students because the majority receives an institutional discount. Founded by German Jesuits in 1870, Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit Catholic colleges in the nation, considered a leader in science education.
Location: Madison, New Jersey
2017-18 tuition: $48,336
2018-19 tuition: $36,668
Looking to grow its enrollment, Drew University cut its tuition by 20 percent for Fall 2018 to 2010 levels, with the new direct costs (tuition and fees, room, board) totaling $53,608. More than 80 percent of the 1,500+ students at Drew also receive financial aid, with the average grant or scholarship about $20,000. Drew is expanding its academic offerings to include undergrad programs in media and communications, public health and cybersecurity. Located near New York City, the college offers programs to take advantage of proximity, including a Wall Street Semester and United Nations semester.
Location: Oakland, California
2017-18 tuition: $44,765
2018-19 tuition: $28,765
Noted for being the first women’s college west of the Rockies (chartered 1885), Mills College reset its tuition for 2018, dropping costs by 36 percent for undergraduates, putting direct costs around $43,700 before financial aid is applied. Some 95 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, with the average award around $28,700. Mills is the first private college in California to drop tuition in an effort to clarify true costs to families who are confused about perceived high price. Mills has a student body of 766 undergraduate women and 489 graduate level men and women.
Sweet Briar College
Location: Sweet Briar, Virginia
2017-18 tuition: $50,055
2018-19 tuition: $21,000
Known for its equestrian program and a 3,250 acre campus, Sweet Briar is another women’s college that reset tuition and fees in a 32 percent reduction for 2018. This year’s cost of attendance for room, board and tuition totaled $34,000. The college continues to offer more than 200 scholarships and financial aid. Along with the reset, the tiny school — undergraduate population around 320 — created a new curriculum emphasizing women’s leadership. It also moved to a new core curriculum, reduced the number of majors and revised the academic calendar to include a 12-week session and a three-week session each semester. During the three-week block, students take one intensive class.
University of Detroit Mercy
Location: Detroit, Michigan
2017-18 tuition: $41,158
2018-19 tuition: $28,000
With an undergraduate enrollment of 2,800 students, University of Detroit Mercy is Michigan’s largest Catholic university, noted for emphasizing community outreach. For Fall 2018, it reduced tuition for full-time undergraduate students by 32 percent. The new direct cost of attendance is approximately $37,500, down from $50,378. Detroit Mercy offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs through seven colleges and professional schools. Its graduate programs, school of law and school of dentistry aren’t subject to the new tuition rate.
University of Sioux Falls
Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
2017-18 tuition: $27,980
2018-19 tuition: $17,980
2019-20 tuition: $18,610
At the University of Sioux Falls, tuition for 2018-19 was reduced by $10,000 or 35.6 percent for full-time undergraduate students. The new rate harks back to 2007. Financial aid is scaled to the new rate but 100 percent of full-time first-year students receive some aid. The website offers some sample student aid packages to help families understand how it works. A small Christian liberal arts college of 1,600 students, USF is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and is known for valuing faith and service.