Some Colleges Are Cutting Tuition in Half, Which Is a Sign That Costs Are Too High

Applications at Colby-Sawyer College

NEW LONDON, N.H. — Applications at Colby-Sawyer College, a small, charming collection of red brick buildings encircled by three mountains, have decreased by around 10% over the last two years as a result of the pandemic and competition from less-priced public colleges throughout the Northeast.

In light of this, Colby-Sawyer made what appears to be a daring choice. It reduced the official tuition for the 2023–24 academic year by 62 percent, from around $46,000 to $17,500. Its reported tuition is currently only marginally more expensive than attending local public universities.

The tuition reset, which restructures rates to reflect what most students actually pay after discounts from need-based and merit-based financial aid, has Colby-Sawyer joining a rising number of small, private universities in this movement.

The reset serves as both a marketing strategy and a wake-up call. Some less well-known universities openly admit that their costs are a bit of a ruse. The costs are high in part to signal that this is an education worth paying for by mimicking the cost of the most prestigious schools and universities, but in actuality, they are not grounded in reality. Every student at Colby-Sawyer receives a discount.

The president of Colby-Sawyer, Susan D. Stuebner, remarked, "I don't want to call it a game, because it's not a game." But this pattern of high sticker prices and big discounts in higher education is so perplexing to families.

She claimed that several prospective candidates balked at the asking price and decided not to look any further.

There is a lot of pressure on private universities to fill their classes. They are vying for a decreasing pool of college-age students and must contend with rising doubts about the value of the degree and the debt that comes with it.

According to a recent Sallie Mae and Ipsos poll, nearly a third of parents and students think that the cost of a college education is too high relative to its value of it. According to the same poll, 81% of families had at some time eliminated a school from consideration due to its excessive cost.

Why is the cost of college so expensive has actually become a topic of national discussion? said Dr. Stuebner. How many families are we missing out on because they look at the price tag and decide "Not for me"?

In contrast to 20 years ago, when some universities discovered that boosting fees boosted applicants, or the Chivas Regal effect, as families connected price with quality, there is now resistance to tuition rises. The status of winning scholarships was also appealing to families. Every year, colleges developed the practice of boosting their costs, then offering financial aid or merit scholarships to students who could not pay the full price of attendance or to exceptional achievers and athletes they want to attract.

There isn't a comprehensive list of colleges with reduced tuition. Even the savviest customer may find it challenging to tell the difference between a marketing gimmick and an actual tuition discount. It is frequently a mix.

Several private universities, including Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts, Washington & Jefferson in Washington, Pennsylvania, and Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, have announced a tuition reset in the previous two years.

With its tuition reduction, Houghton University in Houghton, New York, announced itself as the least expensive Christian university in the US last year.

A 25 percent tuition reduction was announced by Fairleigh Dickinson, which has two campuses in New Jersey and went into effect last year. In an opinion piece published in The Star-Ledger of Newark, its president, Christopher A. Capuano, indicated that the university was responding in part to a drop in enrollment during the pandemic and to worries about student loan debt. However, marketing also contributed.

When examining the cost of college, he stated, "Unfortunately, many students don't aware that the tuition they pay will likely be far cheaper than the published rate and are discouraged from even applying."

Public universities are joining the fray as well. In-state tuition at Vermont State University was set at $9,999, a drop of 15% from the system's average for universities, while it was reduced by 33% for out-of-state students. Several state university systems, including those in New York, Virginia, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Tennessee, have frozen tuition.

Since 2012, Purdue University has maintained stable tuition and fees.

The majority of students at private institutions do not pay the list price. According to research by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 82.5 percent of undergraduates at 359 private nonprofit colleges and universities received grant funding in the academic year 2021–2022. The rewards, which covered an average of 60.7 percent of the published tuition and fees, were the highest ever.

According to Colby-Sawyer, the savings brought down the average tuition from $46,364 to around $12,700. According to the college, the entire list price of attending has decreased from $63,500 to around $36,000 with housing, board, and fees.

According to Dan Parish, director of the college advancement at Colby-Sawyer, "we're getting the stated tuition much closer to reality."

With her husband, a bus driver, and their two sons, Kim Schusler, a senior sales trainer for an electronic health records business, resides in Bradford, New Hampshire, not far from Colby-Sawyer.

But due to the cost, the school was "not even a blip on our radar," she claimed. It wasn't medical school here. They were undoubtedly pricing themselves out of the market.

Cohl, the eldest son of Ms. Schusler, is currently a junior at Colby-Sawyer. His guidance counselor at Kearsarge Regional High School had advised him to apply after learning that because of his strong academic performance, he was likely to be eligible for several scholarships, including one just for being a local resident, which would drastically lower his fees. The local resident scholarship served as a trial run for the tuition increase.

Cohl Schusler was considering a number of less expensive universities, including a state university in Florida, before receiving those scholarships, according to his mother.

His amount for the spring semester is still a little out of the family's reach because he still had to take out federal loans. I am going to try to pay the $5,300 sum out of pocket because I can't afford a loan this year due to the high-interest rates, Ms. Schusler said.

As the Schusler family demonstrates, the cost is not the only factor. Now a senior in high school, the younger son is considering attending a different private college because it provides the cybersecurity curriculum he desires. Ms. Schusler expressed her hope that the price of tuition will be lowered. "For him, that would be a huge assistance. Even if we belong to the category of people who cannot afford to attend college, we are aware that it is necessary to do so in order to succeed in life.

According to analysts, tuition resets are not likely to apply to the smaller portion of highly selective schools with substantial endowments and larger applicant pools. Colleges like Swarthmore and Amherst may pay the whole cost of attendance for low-income students, and they rely on affluent families who are ready to pay the full freight to make up the difference.

According to Lucie Lapovsky, a consultant on tuition resets who worked with Colby-Sawyer, "what you see is a gigantic dichotomy between the very elite schools" — both public and private — "and the other schools, which are accepting almost every student that applied and hoping they can get enough of them to say yes."

Tuition is probably not going to be reset at elite selective schools. Skidmore College won't do this, and they don't need to, according to Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who specializes in finance and higher education. Mount Holyoke is too well-known for such to happen.

According to Destiny Cruz, a senior and the head of the student government organization at Colby-Sawyer, who had to explain the shift to her fellow students, the hardest sale was probably to current students.

They were unhappy to learn that the tuition reset would not benefit them and that their net price would stay the same. After grants and loans, Ms. Cruz, who aspires to become a lawyer, was paying $9,607 annually, and with the reset, she will keep paying that sum.

For approximately three days, she claimed, it was the topic of conversation on campus. I won't lie; after that, the conversation turned to our meal.

The reset has not yet shown to be a miracle cure. When the institution made its announcement after Labor Day, it immediately received a surge in applications, up 75% from the same period the previous year, according to college officials. The announcement also generated attention on social media and in news coverage.

Since then, visits and queries have remained "far up," although Mr. Parish, the director of college promotion, claimed that the quantity of applications has returned to typical levels.

He believes that until the following admissions cycle, the real effect on applications won't be apparent. We still have some time to see where it will settle, but I'd be happy for us if they were ahead, Mr. Parish said.

By lowering tuition, Colby-Sawyer runs some risk, according to Ms. Lapovsky. Families might be put off by the new price, which is known as the Chivas Regal effect. They might also desire the bragging rights that come with a sizable scholarship, which are mathematically unattainable with cheaper tuition.

But the sad fact is that "colleges are unable to fill their classes at the price they are charging," she continued.

Source: NyTimes

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