This story was updated at 5:27 p.m. on Sept. 4 with more information.
Bryan College is making an effort to become one of the most affordable private schools in Tennessee. The small Christian liberal arts college in Dayton, Tennessee, will reduce tuition by about 40% starting next year, university officials announced Wednesday.
The move, school leaders say, will improve the college's affordability and make it an option for more students.
"College affordability is an essential challenge facing all of you," Provost and Vice President of Academics Douglas Mann told Bryan students Wednesday. "Tuition at Bryan is currently $27,900 per year. This causes many students to take on additional debt and makes it nearly impossible for other students to make ends meet. To address those challenges, Bryan College is adjusting its scholarships and tuition for the 2019-20 year by nearly 40%."
The tuition reduction, from about $27,900 a year to $16,900 a year, was announced to current students during Wednesday morning's chapel service. Students gasped and clapped, and many cheered during the announcement.
The lower tuition will apply to current undergraduates, as well as incoming students. Students will learn about their financial aid packages in the coming days and how the change might affect them.
More than 79.8% of Bryan College's current 658 undergraduate students receive some sort of scholarships or financial aid, said David Haggard, director of financial aid at Bryan.
Most current students are not expected to see an increase, but rather a decrease in costs the next school year, added Adina Scruggs, the college's associate vice president of academics.
The move would make the college's tuition and fees cheaper than many other private Christian colleges and universities in the area, including Covenant College, Lee University, Southern Adventist University and the University of the South.
The reduction was not motivated by a decline in enrollment or a desire to substantially increase enrollment, school leaders said at a news conference Wednesday.
"We haven't seen a reduction in our enrollment. We've actually seen some of the highest enrollment in our history over the past few years," Haggard said. "So this is not a decision related to trying to gain enrollment. The perception in the market is really that Bryan is out of reach for families in our region and in our community."
Athletic Director Mike Keen, though, said increased enrollment would be welcomed.
College enrollment has declined overall across the country for the past eight years, according to a May 2019 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The overall decline for the spring 2019 semester was 1.7% percent, but four-year public institutions felt the brunt of that decline. Four-year private institutions actually bucked the trend with an increase of 3.2% this spring, according to the report.
Haggard said Bryan College has not seen a decrease in students thanks to some of Tennessee's popular free or low-cost college programs such as Tennessee Promise or Tennessee Reconnect.
But the college does want to intentionally position itself as a more attractive option for local families, he said.
The school has faced turmoil in recent years, though.
Since 2014, some faculty, students and alumni have been pitted against school President Stephen Livesay, with more than 1,000 people signing a petition in 2017 calling for Livesay's resignation after the firing of a tenured professor. The same year, trustee Wayne Cropp resigned from the board, citing the president's actions.
Cropp wasn't the first trustee to resign in the past five years. In 2014, eight trustees resigned from the board, voicing concerns about the school's direction that included a change to the college's 80-year-old statement of belief, layoffs, dwindling enrollment and a faculty vote of no confidence in Livesay's leadership. Four vice presidents and a number of faculty members also left the school between 2014 and 2017.
Livesay was not present at Wednesday's announcement. Instead, Mann and trustee Lebron Purser, who joined the board in 2017, made the announcement to students. Mann said Livesay was undergoing knee surgery and was not able to attend, but a video was played with a message from the president to the student body.
"This is a historic day in the life of Bryan College," Livesay said in the video. "One of those historic days that we are able to announce something really special. I'm pleased to announce today a new direction for tuition costs at Bryan College."
The new tuition plan is based on enrollment growth, school leaders said, but they don't anticipate tuition increases in the coming years.
Though the plan will have budgetary impacts, Scruggs said the ability for the school to cut tuition has not come from outside fundraising, but rather streamlining student aid and funding resources.
Livesay also said that "nothing will change at Bryan College."
"What we are changing is the cost of your education," Livesay said. "We are not going to cut any programs or services and we are not going to lay off any faculty or staff members as a result of this new direction."
In addition to cutting tuition costs, the college is freezing room and board rates this year, Mann told excited students Wednesday.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.