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Slashing college tuition looks good but might not help

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

Southern Virginia University is the latest among a spate of small private colleges to slash their sticker prices in an effort to be more transparent about costs and to attract new students.

Leah Sidwell

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Southern Virginia University is the latest among a spate of small private colleges to slash their sticker prices in an effort to be more transparent about costs and to attract new students.

Last week, the school announced that it is lowering tuition by 23 percent for the 2014-15 academic year. Beginning next fall, tuition will be $14,600 per year; it is $18,900 for this academic year.

Leaders at Southern Virginia University decided to change from a “high-cost/high-discount model to a low-cost/low discount model,” vice president of enrollment Brett Garcia said in a written statement.

The change at Southern Virginia University follows announcements of sticker price reductions at a growing list of small private colleges, according to Inside Higher Ed newsmagazine. The schools are cutting tuition by as much as $10,000 per year. But the cuts might not help potential students as much as they hope, the story said.

“That’s, in part, because the colleges have reduced their sticker prices to about what most students are paying already, given all the scholarships and aid that colleges give to lure students to high-tuition institutions. Hardly anyone was paying the old sticker price anyway,” it said.

An example of the high-tuition/high-discount model can be found at South Carolina’s Converse College. The school cut its tuition from $29,000 to $16,500 for 2014, but the average amount students are actually paying this year is only $17,000, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Administrators at Converse told Inside Higher Ed that the new pricing strategy aims to attract new students scared away by the old sticker price, and to help retain students caught in a “doughnut hole” — too wealthy to qualify for need-based aid and too poor to easily afford college.

Colleges have benefited from an ever-increasing number of high school graduates and easy availability of loan money, the story said. But now, the number of high school graduates are flattening or falling in most states and the home equity loans that helped middle-class families educate their children are hard to come by. That has colleges cutting their sticker prices to attract students who thought they were priced out.

Ultimately, the price cuts won’t drive down the cost of higher education in general, according to Inside Higher Ed. Those are driven mainly by personnel costs.

Email: cbaker@deseretnews.com Twitter: @celiarbaker

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