College reducing tuition? Yes.

College reducing tuition? Yes.

February 21st, 2011 in Opinion Times

Parents either contemplating the future cost of sending a son or daughter to college or currently paying for a child to attend a university are accustomed to the cost of doing so moving in only one direction -- up. One school is going to buck that trend next year. Sewanee, located in the nearby Tennessee community of the same name, announced last week that it will cut the bill for students by 10 percent next year. That is unique, it appears, among the nation's colleges and universities.

To be sure, Sewanee, a top-tier liberal arts college, still will be costly. The current annual cost for students at the school is about $46,000. Even so, the reduction is welcome, both for those who must pay it and as a sign that at least one college is willing to make a courageous move to improve its appeal to prospective students. Recent enrollment trends at Sewanee suggest such a step makes sense.

High tuition costs and the recession have changed the way many students choose a college. Not too long ago, they would apply to top-tier colleges, regardless of cost and hope for the best. Now, cost is a main concern. In that circumstance, students look to public universities in their home state. It costs less to attend, and they provide, in most instances, an excellent education.

Sewanee, an official admits, has fallen victim to such a trend. In the past two years, John M. McCardell Jr., vice chancellor at Sewanee, said his school has lost 46 students to the University of Georgia, 39 to the University of Tennessee, 37 to the University of Virginia and 28 to the University of North Carolina. Reducing tuition, officials hope, will slow that trend.

It will take a couple of years to see if Sewanee's tuition reduction program bears fruit. No one in collegiate circles can remember a top-rated school cutting tuition. Indeed, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reports that no college reduced its tuition for the current year and that only a handful had frozen it. Sewanee, it seems, is a pioneer.

Sewanee's decision is an admirable one. Officials there obviously believe that reducing tuition will increase awareness of the college and its programs and that, in turn, will prove beneficial to enrollment in years to come. It is a bold experiment, and students, parents and other institutions will observe it closely in the months to come.