College presidents think you want high tuition. Really.

Blackburn College, Carlinville, IL

While I may have thought I wanted transparent presentations of the cost of college, the people who set the price — college presidents — are pretty clear that I want a high price and a healthy discount.

I encourage you to read the post from Daniel deVise in his WaPo College Inc. blog a couple of weeks ago, Is higher tuition what the public wants?

Colleges keep raising tuition [partly] so that they can offer ever-deeper discounts to prospective students. Offering the customer a 40 percent discount on an impossibly high list price accomplishes two things. It tells the customer the product has considerable worth and that it is being offered at great value.

“Perceived value is important,” said Miriam Pride, president of Blackburn College* in Illinois, speaking Friday at a meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges in Marco Island, Fla. “The dollar amount of our discounts is very valuable to our students and their families.”

This makes sense in the  predictably irrational world of goods priced at $19.99, which seems so much cheaper to the consumer than $20.00.

DeVise’s post is interesting for a number of points, including linking the rise of tuition-discounting to the introduction of college ranking publications and the different reactions to tuition cuts, which resulted in discount cuts — it worked for some colleges and not for others.

Meanwhile, in his State of the Union address, President Obama took on high tuition. The full text can be found here.

…Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.

Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.

Not surprisingly, a few college presidents say it’s not that simple. From College presidents wary of Obama’s cost-control tuition plan, here are responses from a couple:

The reality, said Illinois State’s Al Bowman, is that simple changes cannot easily overcome deficits at many public schools. He said he was happy to hear Obama, in a speech Friday at the University of Michigan, urge state-level support of public universities. But, Bowman said, given the decreases in state aid, tying federal support to tuition prices is a product of fuzzy math.

At the University of Washington, President Mike Young said Obama showed he did not understand how the budgets of public universities work.

Young said the total cost to educate college students in his state, which is paid for by both tuition and state government dollars, has gone down because of efficiencies on campus. While universities are tightening costs, the state is cutting their subsidies and authorizing tuition increases to make up for the loss.

Meanwhile, students could seize the opportunity to help rebuild a college with a tremendous history and attend Antioch College tuition free for four years. That’s a $106,000 offer. Read about Antioch’s story and offer here, courtesy of Lynn O’Shaughnessy.

Antioch’s application deadline for 2012-13 is February 15th, but the offer is good for students who enroll in the next three years as the college rebuilds.

* Blackburn College, which has its own great story as a college which keeps costs low by requiring work hours from every student, must be the first campus I ever visited. Graduates include my aunt, sister, cousin, niece, and niece’s husband. I’ve probably missed one or two more. To quote its website:

  • Blackburn is the least expensive, private four-year residential institution in the state of Illinois
  • Blackburn College is the only nationally recognized Work College whose Work Program is student-managed.
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One response to “College presidents think you want high tuition. Really.

  1. Pingback: College decision month: Virtual visits? | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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