College tuition discounts continue to climb

by Grace

The college tuition discount rate – the amount of financial aid as a percentage of tuition and fees – is “again at an all-time high”.

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College continue their “high tuition, high discount” policy.

Private colleges are continuing unabated their strategy of setting high sticker prices while giving most of their students steep discounts, according to the latest survey of private colleges by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The colleges, many of which are struggling to meet enrollment goals, are taking in only 54 cents for every $1 they claim to charge in tuition.

The “high tuition, high discount” business model is often confusing to students and parents, but it’s how things are done at most private colleges: the colleges charge high prices and then offer students they want huge discounts. The discount comes in the form of need-based aid for low-income students and “merit” aid for students with characteristics that make them desirable to a college. At wealthy colleges, endowments may have actual funds to replace lost tuition revenue, but most colleges are just waiving the chance of getting more.

Is steep discounting a desperate, short-term strategy?

“If you do too high a discount, then perceptions of desperation creep in,” says Rao. People start to ask: “Are they going out of business? Is this product a dud?”

Mitchell Hamilton is an assistant professor of marketing at Loyola Marymount University. He says deep discounts are a short-term strategy at best. “When you’re looking at discounts of half off or more, or buy one get one free, those are for businesses that need immediate results,” he says. “Private universities are hoping that this is just a strategy to stay afloat until the economic situation gets better.”

Most observers seem to agree that if this trend becomes a race to the bottom, the losers will be ‘”smaller-sized, ‘no-name,’ tuition-driven schools.”‘  Top ranked colleges will continue to thrive.

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Ry Rivard, “Discount Escalation”, Inside Higher Ed, July 2, 2014.

Anya Kamenetz, “How Private Colleges Are Like Cheap Sushi”, NPR Ed, July 12, 2014.

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