NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Colleges Offer Deals to Lure New Students

March 18, 2013

American colleges, cognizant of more than $1 trillion in student debt facing America's graduates and their families, are adjusting their costs to appeal to more financially-strapped prospective students. The new deals, which are primarily offered at liberal arts colleges, are meant to counterbalance tuition trends and appeal to a broader base of high school seniors, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • Tuition costs for public and private schools jumped 92 percent between 2001 and 2011 while the consumer price index, which measures inflation, rose 27 percent.
  • The number of high school seniors is expected to decline to 3.32 million students from an all-time high of 3.41 million students during the 2010-2011 school year.
  • The average student loan burden for 2011 graduates who had debt grew to $26,000.

With these trends in mind, some colleges have started offering aggressive incentives to attract new students.

  • Alma College in Michigan, where about one in five students doesn't graduate in four years, has started offering free classes to students who stay longer than four years.
  • Spring Arbor University in Michigan agreed in February to pick up a portion of tuition costs for students working 30 hours per week and making less than $37,000 following graduation.
  • Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, will offer students their eighth semester free if they maintain a 3.5 grade point average for the first seven semesters.

More than two dozen private colleges have frozen their tuition this fall, more than double the previous year's total. For students who are wary of graduating with significant debt, offers and deals such as these are appealing given the shaky job market.

  • President Obama created the College Report Card to provide information to prospective students about college costs and student outcomes, including debt and employment.
  • Other schools have begun publishing detailed reports of how tuition dollars are spent in response to critics who says tuition funds are being squandered.

As family attitudes respond to a new job market and the value of a college education changes, universities are adopting new strategies to ensure they are relevant in the 21st century.

Source: Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn, "Colleges' Latest Offer: Deals," Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2013.

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