Behind Concordia's Bold Tuition Cut

Tim Goral's picture

On Sept. 12, 2012, Concordia University, a small Lutheran college located in St. Paul’s historic Union Park neighborhood, made a stunning announcement in academic finance circles: It was cutting tuition by 33 percent.

For private schools, especially, this was both a revelation and a provocation; few, if any, have mustered the will to lower their costs significantly over the past few decades, an era of steady tuition hikes. At the time of the announcement, Concordia’s yearly tuition was $29,700, an amount high enough – even with the myriad layers of available public and private financial aid – to scare off many students (not to mention their parents). Tuition at some Minnesota private colleges exceeded $40,000 last fall.

Seven months later, school officials are ready to carry through on their promise. Tuition for this fall’s incoming freshmen has been set at $19,700. Moreover, upperclassmen will see their tuition dropped to the same level while the cost of room and board will be frozen at this year’s rate.

The dramatic move comes with a caveat: Financial aid will also be reduced, meaning that savings for many students and their families will most likely be modest rather than dramatic. Even so, the change has garnered the attention of college presidents and deans across the country.

“It was a long process,” said Kristin Vogel, Concordia’s director of undergraduate admission and one of the leaders behind what college officials are calling a “tuition reset.” “I think that, instinctively, Concordia knew that the cost was becoming out of reach for our students and we wanted to address that in some way.”

Ultimately, the college’s board of directors and its president, Tom Ries, agreed that the change was needed if the school wanted to attract students who were flinching in the face of high tuition and fulfill its mission of serving people regardless of economic standing.

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