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Washington & Jefferson slashes published tuition prices in an attempt to remain competitive

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Washington & Jefferson College is cutting its published tuition price nearly in half for fall 2023, a 44% price reset and another sign of the aggressive competition among the region’s colleges to keep seats filled in a slumping higher education market.

The school with roughly 1,150 students calls the move price simplification. It brings the tuition to $27,605, not counting other expenses including room and board.

With financial aid, students there and at other private colleges already pay a price well below what is advertised. The new rate drives that fact out into the open.

“We are aware that families are more cost conscious than ever today and we’re responding to that by simplifying our pricing,” said school president John Knapp in a statement.

An enrollment figure for this fall was not immediately available from W&J. In fall 2021, the college enrolled 1,157 students, according to data from the US Department of Education.

Enrollment nationally was down again this fall, according to research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. States in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, including Western Pennsylvania, have been hit hard by declining numbers of high school graduates. Fewer traditional 18- to 22-year-old students means empty dorm beds on residential campuses.

An enticing job market has made filling seats more complicated of late.

Even before the pandemic hit, public campuses in this state had curbed tuition increases or frozen the price altogether, among them the State System of Higher education and its 10 state-owned universities where base in-state annual tuition has been frozen for four years at $7,716. Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh have also curbed tuition hikes or frozen the rate in recent years.

The State University of New York is intent on reversing its own enrollment declines of the last decade using a policy matching the in-state tuition charged at flagship universities in eight states, including Penn State.

Private campuses are making price adjustments, too.

In September, Allegheny College announced that it would pay the entire tuition up to four years for Pennsylvania students coming from families making $50,000 and under. Its “Commitment to Access Program” involves first year and new transfer students in the fall of 2023, as well as already enrolled students for 2023-24.

The published tuition price there is $52,950 a year, not counting other fees such as room and board. That translates into a total expense of $69,656 a year, before factoring in financial assistance, school officials have said.

Drexel University in Philadelphia said it will offer a 50% tuition discount to community college graduates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey who transfer there.

At W&J, once room, board and other direct fees are added to the newly reduced tuition, the total attendance price not counting indirect expenses such as books and travel comes to $41,709, according to school data.

Students typically pay well below the published price once financial aid is included, so the reduction more clearly reflects what students and families already pay would pay for tuition at W&J.

The National Association of College and University Business Officers annually tracks tuition discounting. Its most recent survey puts the estimated average tuition-discount rate for first-time undergraduates attending private colleges at 54.5% as of last year, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in May, citing the NACUBO findings.

The average tuition-discount rate for all undergraduates stood at 49%.

“The traditional tuition pricing model in higher education has long been unnecessarily complicated for students and families seeking to determine the actual cost of a college education,” the school said in a message added to its website. “W&J’s new model simplifies this process by providing a realistic upfront price as a starting point for awarding any additional scholarships and grants based on students’ individual need and merit.”

Bill Schackner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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