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What Great School Is Offering 20% Cut in Tuition?

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 31, 2012 7:43 AM |

I am convinced that private colleges and universities will get increasingly squeezed financially over the coming years.

Families are clearly under heightened pressures from both an income and cost of living standpoint. Those pressures are already being factored into the equation as to where to send the kids to college. The prospect of a 50+k/year ticket for a private education looks very unappealing.

Well, one very highly regarded university clearly gets it and has made an aggressive move in dealing with this current market reality. This most competitive institution just launched a program in which undergraduates can get their degree in three years and effectively save 20% in the process. That’s a major market move which will clearly put pressure on its competition.

What school did this and who deserves the credit?

Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut under the leadership of President Michael Roth. How does it work? Let’s navigate as Roth shared his own personal undergraduate experience and laid out, A Degree in ‘Three Marvelous Years’

As I prepare for my commencement speech this year, I remember vividly when I first realized that I could graduate college in three years rather than four. As a freshman, I was certainly in no hurry to leave. Indeed, I loved being in college: I was excited by the combination of freedom and opportunity to work hard on subjects I loved with faculty I admired. I didn’t want to leave – even for vacations!

But I realized that graduating in three years would save my family lots of money. Neither of my parents had attended college, and they had sacrificed for years to send my brother and me to the schools of our choice. My father was a furrier, and my mother had given up a promising singing career to raise us (while earning money selling clothes in our basement).

Roth was certainly wise beyond his years as a young man back in the ’70s and displays similar wisdom currently in launching this program at Wesleyan.

I have now been back at my alma mater as its president for five years, and I still find it an amazing place full of opportunities for learning. Recently, I have spoken with the trustees here about measures we can take to make the university more affordable while still ensuring the quality of an education that comes from face-to-face learning with accomplished scholar-teachers. Wesleyan, like many universities, has gotten ever more expensive, and even though we have a robust financial aid program, we know that many families who don’t qualify for large scholarships have great difficulty paying the high tuition we charge.

But in the last year or so, I’ve come to believe that this model is unsustainable.

Roth is right. The private college and university model is unsustainable. Do you get the sense that administrators across the private college and university landscape just got a pit in their stomach? As well they should. In large measure, these administrators have been running a bit of a racket.

…we will help those students who choose to graduate in six semesters (along with some summer work) get the most out of their time on campus. The three-year option isn’t for everyone, but for those students who are prepared to develop their majors a little sooner, shorten their vacations by participating in summer sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical BA might be of genuine interest. In our case, allowing for some summer expenses, families would still save about 20 percent from the total bill for an undergraduate degree. At many private schools that would be around $50,000!

Roth and the board at Wesleyan deserve very real credit for undertaking this initiative. They are clearly aware that in order to attract the students they desire, they need to offer a program that addresses the current marketplace.

Make no mistake, the market just moved. Parents of current high school students will be asking other schools how they will respond to this Wesleyan initiative. As well they should.

Given the widespread interest in this topic, comments and questions are encouraged and appreciated.

Larry Doyle

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I have no affiliation or business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

Larry

  • fred

    LD,

    I think the education/skill development model in this country needs to be ‘reworked’. I love the idea of a 3 yr degree for less cost but where are America’s corporations in this equation?

    Why don’t companies hire these graduates into work/study programs offering company sponsored training programs for specific (in demand) skills; tuition reimbursement for continuing graduate studies would also be a part of the program.

    I’m tired of hearing corporate executives whining about our unskilled and poorly prepared labor force, when are American coporations going to assume some responsibility and view human resources as either a long term asset subject to ongoing reinvestment, or even as R&D expense budgeted as a percentage of revenue?

  • Rick

    I love the idea of having the schools share in the responsibility for loans…like recourse….
    it would tie loanability to academic prefromance
    and make certain that merit was a criteria in allowing kids into schools as opposed to the synthetic stuff we’re now using.

  • Becky

    I’m the parent of a HS Junior and am disgusted and flabbergasted at the cost of college. Especially stumped by how sharing a room with 1-3 other people and getting three squares a day costs nearly the same amount as feeding my family of 5 and housing them (each in their own bedroom)for an entire year.

    Rather than all the hand wringing about student loan debt, America needs to figure out why it costs so much money to go to college. The U of M gets a billion dollars a year in appropriations but it still costs an instate kid over $11,000 a year for undergrad tuition.






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