A growing number of private colleges and universities are offering discounted tuition and other ways to save.
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To attract students and families turned off by the potential for six-figure tuition bills, a growing number of private colleges are taking a page out of the retail playbook: They are cutting their prices.
Most recently, Seton Hall University announced that it would offer tuition discounts of up to 66% for academically qualified students, joining more than a dozen schools across the country that have announced similar programs in the last few months. Some schools, like Seton Hall, are offering straight-up tuition discounts for qualified students. Others are rolling out three-year degree programs that allow students to, effectively, cut their tuition bills by 25%. Still others are guaranteeing tuition won't rise while a student is in school. The most generous of the programs can whittle the price of private college — $27,000 per year — to less than $10,000.
For many of these schools, the discounts and breaks are part of an effort to raise their national profiles and to attract a broader pool of applicants. Selectivity and acceptance rates are an important part of national college rankings — the more students apply, the lower the acceptance rate, the better the ranking. And the schools that peg their discounts to academic performance are also potentially raising the quality of their incoming freshman class, which also factors in those all-important rankings.
At the same time, students and parents have become far more cost-conscious, particularly in recent years. Two out of every three college graduates carries student debt, and a high unemployment rate has made it harder for parents to help, and for students to pay back loans. Colleges say they've been cutting costs all along, but are now ready to try new tactics to lessen the burden for students and their parents. "Some institutions, independent of financial pressures, are saying we want to think in a more creative way," says David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Of course, the discounts still don't make private colleges particularly affordable — at least, not compared to in-state public school tuition. At an average cost of $7,600 per year, that may still be the more financially sound move for some families, says Rod Bugarin, a former financial aid officer at Brown and Columbia universities. There can be other drawbacks, too: If a student doesn't stay academically eligible for a discounted program, costs may spike; accelerated degree programs can mean extra nights in the library and losing a year of the college experience.
Here's a rundown of the new tuition discounts and deals private colleges are rolling out.
Some schools are cutting the sticker price for all students or offering discounts to specific groups of students, including those who are academically qualified or in a particular major.
Tuition and fees*: $15,360
Discount: This year, working adults who return to school to complete a degree in the school's "inSPIRE" program qualify for a 25% discount, bringing tuition and fees down to $11,600 annually.
Discount: Starting in the 2012-13 academic year, the university will offer a 50% discount on tuition and fees to freshmen who enroll in its School of Education. The discount will be in place for all four years the students are in the program. Education majors will pay about $14,000 less next year than students in other majors.
Sewanee: The University of the South
Discount: The school approved a 10% reduction in tuition and fees across the board for the 2011-12 academic year.
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ
Discount: Starting next year, the school will award a $21,000 discount for early applicants who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class and score at least 550 on the math portion of their SATs and at least 550 on the reading portion or an ACT score that's 27 or higher.
*Except where noted, tuition figures include tuition only for a full academic year. Data from schools' publications and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
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