The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) has been keeping this running list of colleges that are reducing tuition, freezing it for one or more years, offering three-year degree programs, and starting other initiatives to keep the cost of college down. The document helpfully points out that average tuition and fees at private colleges, after adjustment for inflation, actually declined 4.1 percent from 2006-07 to 2011-12. When you factor in the ever-increasing tuition discount rate, the tuition students are actually paying at private colleges has assuredly decreased even more than 4.1 percent.
This is an exceedingly difficult public relations war. After years of huge increases — until the tuition and fees at hundreds of private colleges roughly equals the median annual household income in the United States — the idea that college had just become too darn expensive has become cemented in the minds of most consumers.
When faculty members are donating money to fight job cuts at one college, and administrators are suspending retirement contributions at another, one gets the idea that large troubles loom for many small private colleges.
Compare that kind of information to announcements like these:
New Charter University is offering unlimited classes for $199 a month. For-profit institutions have the fastest growing enrollments and now teach more than 1 in 9 college students. Udacity, the new online university founded by former Stanford robotics professor Sebastian Thrun, is being backed by the same venture capital company that funded Twitter.
Which part of higher education do you think is ascendant?
This terrific essay in the New Republic argues that the higher education establishment “is crumbling as we speak.”
Which brings me back to that list of NAICU colleges that are at least trying to do something different. Yes, as I mentioned, it is a tremendously difficult argument for a college to win — that they are efficient and cost-effective. But some people have got to stand up and bravely say that the business model isn’t working anymore, and colleges savaging one another only results in everyone losing.
Cutting tuition or guaranteeing to hold it at a certain rate is only one way of showing good will to consumers, or at least that a college understands the pain of its customers. Many more steps need to be taken if the hundreds of fine small colleges in this country are to be preserved. But as a start, if your college is not on that NAICU list, what are you waiting for? And if another college can think of more strategies that show them to be humble and student-centric, even better.
photo courtesy of flickr user sean mcmenemy