Is college getting cheaper? Some schools are trying tuition cuts

Sep 4, 2018 by

Cuts to advertised tuition come in the face of an enrollment drop and consumer backlash

It may have been one of the biggest back-to-school sales ever: a 36 percent drop in the advertised cost of a college education.

That’s what awaited students this fall at Mills College, one of a growing number of higher-education institutions that have started freezing or dropping their prices in the face of a years-long enrollment decline and heightened price sensitivity.

The 1,300-student private college in Oakland, California, which like many private colleges has been having trouble attracting students, dropped its sticker price from $45,000 to $29,000 a year.

“We listened to our prospective students and their families, who said the cost was prohibitive for them,” said Mills President Elizabeth Hillman. “We want more students to apply.”

It’s an increasingly common example of market forces finally coming to bear on college costs, which have consistently grown much faster than prices for other goods and services thanks to a steady supply of students. In the 10 years ending in 2016, college tuition and fees rose 63 percent, or three times the rate of everything else tracked by the Consumer Price Index, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Today, however, because of a decline in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds and an improving economy that is sucking people straight into the workforce, colleges have 2.9 million fewer customers than they did at the last peak, in 2011, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this.

Related: Eligible for financial aid, nearly a million students never get it

Meanwhile, almost seven in 10 parents said in a survey that they had eliminated colleges from consideration for their children because of the cost. In another survey, only 44 percent of Americans said private, nonprofit universities and colleges are worth what they charge.

Source: Is college getting cheaper? Some schools are trying tuition cuts

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