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VOL. 37 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 5, 2013

Tuition cut, freeze works for Sewanee

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Spencer Hall offers 49,000 additional square feet of space for the sciences, including research, chemistry, biology, biochemistry and environmental science. The building houses six teaching laboratories, four classrooms, and five research laboratories, along with offices.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Woodrow Blettel Sewanee

A college education isn’t getting any cheaper, but for parents who want to at least hold the line, Sewanee: The University of the South is providing an option.

In 2011, the university announced it was reducing tuition and fees by 10 percent for that and the following academic year. Last year, it announced that the fall 2012 class would have its tuition, room and board frozen for four years through the spring 2016 semester.

The goal was twofold:

  • Give families a leg up on planning college expenses
  • Generate interest and boost admissions

It worked on all fronts, says Lee Ann Afton, director of admissions.

“It was the right thing for Sewanee,” she says. “When we made the announcement in February 2011 that we were dropping costs by 10 percent, we’d already passed application deadlines for that year, but a lot of people wanted to come and check us out.

“We had a larger freshman class that year, and because of increased visits we’ve been able to sustain that. More people see the place, they apply in greater numbers and they tell their friends.”

Campus visits by potential students have continued to increase, along with alumni giving.

That said, the economics of the reduction have demanded larger freshmen classes, and so far Sewanee is holding to its projections. The fall 2011 goal was 425, and there were 433. Last year, the goal was 450 and there were 453.

“It’s not a lot of room, but we’ve made the goal. And it’s not just a head-count goal, but a tuition-revenue goal,” Afton says. “That’s put pressure on admissions — we need to hit our targets to make this work, and so far we’ve been fortunate.”

The fall 2013 goal is 460 freshmen, and she’s keeping her fingers crossed until May 1 when the registration deadline passes and the numbers come into clearer focus.

So far, it looks as though the four-year, tiered system that has begun will stay in place for the foreseeable future.

“When you come in, that price is guaranteed for your four years,” she says. “But we also are letting them know that they have to graduate in four years, which a majority of them do. The price won’t hold if it takes longer.”

That means the current freshmen class is paying $45,960 for each year. That was about a 3 percent increase over the $44,630 that the fall 2011 class is paying, so both the school and potential students – and parents – can do the math accordingly.

“Our daughter had already been accepted by Sewanee by early decision, so it was not just a financial decision for us,” says Craig Laine, an alumnus and also a past president of the Associated Alumni.

“But I have served on a lot of committees and boards there, and my conversations with my daughter’s classmates’ parents have revealed that it did make a difference to some of them.”

It’s not seen as just a financial incentive, but also something where “the university recognized that college costs are really out of control, and that they wanted to help. Many people see this as a genuine effort to cap or reduce costs, and I do think that might be the difference for some people when they are making a choice.”

A growing number of students has meant new residence halls and other changes on campus, but those were planned for when the reduction and freeze plans were being ironed out, Afton says.

“We couldn’t have pulled it off if we didn’t have room to grow,” she says. “When you’re sitting at about 1,500 students and your strategic plan calls for 1,750 within eight to 10 years, you start growing. We’ve got a new residence hall going up, 90 beds that’ll be online in August, and we’re already looking at the next location for another one.

“We do guarantee housing for all four years, so we’re making sure we have the beds. And we’re adding faculty, too, because we have a ratio of 10 to 1 and we’re going to maintain that. We are making sure that the growth is great for the students, and great for us.”