When colleges slash tuition, some students actually pay more

An article in the Hechinger Report recently reported that when colleges cut their tuition rates it typically gets lots of press, but often students save far less than expected.

They used Converse College as an example. It was reported they were cutting tuition by 43 percent. The private college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, cut its “sticker price” last year to $16,500 from $29,124. It was one of several higher-education institutions that won accolades for seemingly bucking the tide of rising costs.

In fact, because of the confounding and largely invisible system that governs what colleges actually charge, and to whom, the new tuition alone at Converse came out to only about $1,300 less than what the average student paid in total — including room and board — the year before, federal data show.

Converse, whose 718 undergraduates are all women, made sure a combination of the price cut and financial aid lowered the cost of attendance to some degree for all students, said Trevor Pittman, the college’s associate vice president for enrollment management and services.

But if people thought students would save nearly $13,000 a year on tuition, as the price cut made it seem, they were wrong.

Most saw savings of around $1,100, Pittman said.

Converse is an example of what actually happened at the several colleges and universities that got lots of positive press for announcing they were lowering tuition, and illuminates the bafflingly complex way these institutions describe the financial picture to prospective and current students.

Meanwhile, some schools that trumpeted price cuts in the last few years — often to reverse enrollment declines — have since quietly raised tuition back to almost what it had been before, or even higher.

At those and other institutions, the reductions in many cases were much less than publicly suggested. That’s because few students at any school pay the price that’s listed in the catalog or on the website.

The tuition reductions loudly publicized by schools like Converse can also be misleading. That’s because they don’t take into account the other costs of college. At Converse, for example, the tuition cut the school said came to 43 percent was actually 29 percent when room, board, books, and all other costs were taken into account, federal figures show.

The University of Charleston lowered its advertised tuition in 2012, to $19,500 from $25,000, to help reverse an enrollment slide. But the average price students actually paid didn’t fall, federal data shows. It rose. For families with annual incomes of $30,000 or less, the cost increased 39 percent.

Enrollment went up nonetheless. And the university, which declined through a spokeswoman to answer questions, hiked tuition this year by nearly 18 percent, to $23,200. The price will rise again by nearly 25 percent next year, to $28,900.

The article (linked here – When colleges slash tuition some students actually pay more) gives several other examples of Colleges that publicly announced large tuition decreases.

What Counselor’s should take from this article when working with students is that each school’s cost should be thoroughly investigated and compared to other schools on the students list to make sure they have the true picture.