- The coronavirus crisis and economic downturn have finally put a limit on what families are willing to pay for college.
- In response, Southern New Hampshire University said it is discounting tuition by more than 50% next year.
Many education experts predicted that rising college costs would eventually reach a breaking point and 2020 could be the year it happens.
Southern New Hampshire University recently announced it will slash tuition to $10,000 to $15,000 a year beginning next fall. That's a 50% reduction from its current rate.
"We fear higher ed is getting out of reach for too many people," said Paul LeBlanc, the school's president and CEO.
The new tuition plan has two pricing options for students studying on campus next year: Those enrolled in the $15,000 program will have a more traditional academic experience with face-to-face instruction in a classroom. The $10,000 program offers a flexible schedule with a mix of in-person and online classes.
At that price, a degree will cost less than it would at most public schools, LeBlanc said. At the same time, students will take on less debt.
For years, college costs have crept higher and higher, creating an affordability crisis for students and their families. But the coronavirus crisis and economic downturn have finally put a limit on what families are willing to pay.
"In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unstable economy and the great uncertainty facing higher education, college affordability and accessibility have never been more critical," according to LeBlanc.
The goal, he said, is to simplify the often confusing disconnect between sticker price and what families end up paying out of pocket.
"We just want to get away from everybody paying a different price."
In the middle of the pandemic, schools like Southern New Hampshire University are under increased pressure to keep annual tuition increases in check.
Overall, average tuition and fees increased by just 1.1% for in-state students at four-year public colleges and 2.1% for students at four-year private institutions in the 2020-21 academic year — the lowest percentage increases in three decades, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid.
Other schools have also announced plans to lower tuition in 2021.
Beginning next fall, Rider University said it will reduce its undergraduate tuition for new students by 22% to $35,000, from $45,120.
Fairleigh Dickinson University will similarly slash tuition for all new students on its New Jersey campuses in fall 2021 to $32,000 — a 22% to 25% discount from the current cost.
And even more institutions announced they will freeze tuition next year in hopes of attracting more students and families struggling with the weight of a higher-education tab during the ongoing economic crisis.
For many of these colleges, the goal is to replace lost tuition revenue with an enrollment boost. Southern New Hampshire University hopes to expand its campus enrollment to 4,500 students from 3,000 students by 2025, according to the school.
Some have already tried this strategy as a means of getting more students to apply and growing the student body without diminishing the school's competitive ranking.
Roughly three years ago, Drew University, a New Jersey-based private college, announced it would lower the price of its tuition by 20%.
"We have to have our finger on the pulse of how students are making choices," Drew's then-President MaryAnn Baenninger said at the time.
The following year, the number of applicants jumped 18% and the university's selectivity improved, as well as its value ranking, according to the school.