While tuition bills continue to skyrocket, a small but growing number of private colleges and universities are bucking the trend and going on sale.
At least six colleges announced plans to reduce tuition costs in the upcoming school year. Many of these schools say lower-cost higher-education will attract more students from middle-income families those with incomes too high to qualify for free federal financial aid, but not high enough to pay for college costs without going deep into debt. "We are hoping to recruit more students from that group than in the past," says Edwin Welch, president of University of Charleston, in West Virginia, which is slashing tuition by 22%. Others are looking to lure students away from nearby colleges that up to now have been more affordable, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, which tracks financial aid issues.
To be sure, the discounts may not make these private colleges more affordable than public colleges. The average annual cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public college for in-state students this year is $8,244, according to the College Board. Of the private colleges cutting tuition, Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., will offer the lowest tuition (roughly $10,000) for incoming freshmen with high grades.
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The cuts come as the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a four-year private university for the current academic year is $28,500 -- a 15% increase from five years ago. Meanwhile, college savings plans haven't been able to keep up with the rate of tuition inflation largely due to the choppy market over the past few years. "We felt it imperative to respond to the economic environment and what we are hearing from students and their parents," says Marie Angelella George, president of Cabrini College, near Philadelphia, which is lowering tuition by nearly 13%.
Here's a rundown of six colleges lowering tuition next year.
Tuition cut: 12.5%
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $29,000 (down from $33,176 this year)
Located near Philadelphia, Cabrini College lowered annual tuition for the upcoming school year below $30,000 with the hope of attracting students who would otherwise look for a cheaper alternative. And tuition isn't expected to go up anytime soon: The college has pledged to keep tuition and fees under $30,000 for at least three academic years, through May 2015. The tuition cut applies to all undergraduate students.
Financial aid totaled $18.3 million for undergrads this year, and while aid for next year hasn't been determined yet, the school vows not to reduce scholarships for returning students. "We anticipate that the vast majority of students, both new and continuing, will pay less next year than this year," says a university spokesman.
Room and board, which average $11,742 this year, are estimated to rise by 1% next year.
Tuition cut: 24%
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $17,480 (down from $23,000 this year)
As the cost of attending Lincoln College kept rising, the school noticed fewer students were enrolling. By the current academic year, the total number of students enrolled at the Lincoln, Ill.-based institution fell below the 1,300 threshold the school always maintained to about 1,275, says Tony Cardenas, vice president for enrollment management and student services. Hit by sticker shock -- the cost of tuition, fees, room and board is $29,000 this year -- "parents weren't giving us a second look, so we knew we had to make an adjustment," he says.
The school cut tuition for the upcoming year (and will keep room and board unchanged at $7,000). Cardenas says applications are already higher than they were a year ago.
Financial aid will likely change though, he says. This year the school gave out roughly $7 million in non-loan aid to students, an amount likely to drop as a result of the tuition cut.
University of Charleston
Tuition cut: 22%
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $20,700 (down from $26,200)
When the stock market plummeted in August and worries about another recession returned, a number of incoming freshmen scheduled to start at the University of Charleston in the fall called to cancel their enrollment, says Edwin Welch, president of the University of Charleston in West Virginia. Many of these students said they would attend more affordable colleges, he says.
In an attempt to hold on to students and to assuage parents' financial concerns, the university decided to reduce tuition by 22% for new students and give at least $6,000 in free aid to all returning ones. That means students won't pay more than $19,500 out of pocket for tuition. (Fees will remain the same as this year at $1,200.)
Additional financial aid, however, will drop. This year the university gave out $15.5 million in free aid, slightly up from $15 million the year prior, but next year it could fall to $10 million, says Welch. He says that decrease would be equal to roughly the amount of aid the school's 1,000 undergrads will get with the tuition cut. And other costs will rise. Room and board, which averages $9,000 a year, will likely increase by 1% to 2%, he says.
William Peace University
Tuition cut: 7.7%
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $23,900 (down from $25,900)
Among the many changes William Peace University in Raleigh, N.C., is implementing next year -- including converting from an all-girls college to a coed university -- will be lowering tuition for all undergrads. Its goal is to increase enrollment from 600 students to at least 900 in the next five to seven years, says Debra Townsley, the university's president.
In addition, the school plans to leave the free financial aid it's been offering students unchanged, at roughly $3.5 million per year. Students who maintain the necessary grades to keep their merit aid should expect the same award next year. Likewise, for those who receive needs-based aid, as long as their financial circumstances remain the same.
The cost of dorming will remain unchanged at $6,186, but food costs will rise by $120 to $2,814.
Tuition and fees cut: 50% in the form of a grant for freshmen who enroll in its School of Education
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $14,355 (down from $28,671)
In a typical year, Duquesne University's School of Education enrolls 85 to 100 undergrads. But this year that number dropped to 60, says Paul-James Cukanna, associate provost for enrollment management. He says students who were planning to attend changed their minds after teacher cutbacks at schools throughout the country picked up. Their concern, he says, was going into debt to pay for high tuition and graduating without a job.
To lower the costs of obtaining an education degree and boost enrollment, the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based university decided to offer a grant equal to 50% of current tuition and fees to incoming education students.
Room and board will rise next year for all students by 3% to 4% from its current level of roughly $9,800.
Seton Hall University
Tuition and fees cut: roughly $21,000 for incoming high achieving freshmen
Tuition and fees in 2012-13: $10,104 (down from roughly $31,000)
To attract high-achieving students away from public colleges, South Orange, N.J.-based Seton Hall University is offering the same tuition costs as its state's largest public college, Rutgers University. The result is a 61% discount on Seton Hall tuition that equals more than $21,000 in savings for the upcoming academic year. The discount is strictly for incoming freshmen with top grades and SAT scores. "A lot of families think private education is out of their reach," says Alyssa McCloud, vice president of enrollment management. "We're trying to make it as affordable as public education."
The free financial aid the school gives out will remain unchanged at about $62 million a year. Room and board, which costs about $11,000 a year, will rise between 1% and 5% though the exact amount hasn't been determined yet, she says. Fees that are currently around $1,500 will rise by a similar amount, though unlike most schools they include free laptops for each student that get replaced with new ones after two years.