Dive Brief:

  • Several colleges are lowering tuition costs for fall 2021, saying they want to alleviate students’ and families’ financial burdens spurred by the public health crisis. 

  • Some of the reductions are significant. While a few have cut tuition by about 25%, Houghton College, a Christian college in New York, dropped it by more than 50%. 

  • The cuts are so far mostly among private institutions, suggesting they are particularly concerned about meeting enrollment goals in the coming years, one expert said. 

Dive Insight:

Spikes in confirmed coronavirus cases this summer prompted many institutions to remain online for the fall.

But as research suggests, students favor face-to-face instruction over virtual, some institutions tried cutting tuition as a way to incentivize first-year students to attend and existing students to return. Wealthy colleges, which weren’t so financially strapped, chopped tuition partially as a means to assist struggling students and families, higher ed finance experts told Education Dive this summer. 

Private colleges are more likely to lower their posted tuition prices because they can do so without losing much revenue, said Robert Kelchen, a higher education professor at Seton Hall University. Institutions, particularly less-selective private schools, can instead trim back financial aid to protect their bottom line and not scare off students with the initial price tag, Kelchen said. 

Seattle Pacific University reduced tuition by 25% and Gordon College did so by 33%.

The University of Lynchburg, a Virginia-based private school, will take tuition from $54,000 to $46,000. But coupled with financial aid, it said in a statement, the total cost of attendance will average $24,000 a year. The statement also touted the new cost as being about what students attending public colleges in Virginia pay

“This is a fairly common tactic, trying to match competitors’ tuition,” Kelchen said.  

Some tuition discounts only apply to students entering college for the first time, such as with Hendrix College, in Arkansas, which is dropping tuition by 32% for that group. Fairleigh Dickinson University, in New Jersey, is lowering tuition to $32,000 for new students, a roughly 25% reduction. 

Kelchen said price reductions would likely continue after students’ first year, as families won’t like paying more later. Tuition discounting was a common practice prior to the pandemic, and averaged more than 50% for first-time, full-time students at private nonprofit colleges during the previous academic year, according to recent data.

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