An increasing number of colleges have been cutting tuition costs to attract enrollment and address financial challenges, but the benefits for students and their families are often limited.
According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com, the reduction in headline tuition costs have not had a substantial impact on the net costs that families actually pay for college because financial aid is usually cut as well. Also, the tuition reset is usually a one-time reduction; after which tuition costs increase every subsequent year.
A total of 91 colleges implemented 95 tuition resets from 1987 to 2018, with the frequency increasing from an average one per year for the first 25 of those years to an average 10 per year since 2012. The cuts ranged from a minimum of 4% to 61% and averaged 26%. Another five institutions have implemented cuts for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to savingforcollege.com. Kantrowitz says there are potentially three times as many colleges that could cut tuition costs, but that’s still only a fraction of the several thousand colleges and universities in the U.S.
Most of the schools that have reduced their tuitions since 1987 are nonselective private institutions, meaning they accept 40% or more of applicants, and most are small with enrollments under 5,000 students, including one-third with less than 1,000 students. In addition, most of these schools recruit students regionally and are not well known nationally, though there are exceptions.
The University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, which is also part of the Virginia public college system, cut tuition by 20% for the 1999-2000 academic year. More recently, for the 2016-2017 academic year, the University of Washington and Washington State University cut tuition by 10%, and Utica College in upstate New York slashed tuition by 42%.