With tuition increases that have spread over the past 20 years to both private and public colleges, Randolph College, Sweet Briar, and Lynchburg University have implemented tuition resets and programs to help students pay for their education.
The average cost of tuition and fees at private national universities jumped 144% from 2002 to 2022, according to a study by US News and World Report.
Randolph College Dean of Admissions Travis Carter said the numbers were staggering.
“I would say I’m probably in the same boat as the rest of the audience,” Carter said. “I hear that number and it’s staggering, and sobering.”
For comparison, the cumulative inflation rate in the United States over the past 20 years has been around 60%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Randolph College tuition and fees have increased approximately 41% over this 20-year period. The college saw its highest annual tuition price in fall 2019 at $41,131.
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Carter arrived at the college in mid-2019 when talks had already begun for a possible reset. He said there was no way to predict a pandemic was coming, but the reset came at a good time. The school lowered tuition to $25,610 for the fall 2020 semester, a 38% drop from the previous year.
“For a lot of students…and families who have found themselves out of work and trying to pay for things, it couldn’t have come at a better time, it seems, timing wise” , Carter said.
To help nearby students, Randolph College has added to its LEAP program, also known as the Local Education Access Program. The original program offered a special tuition rate to the city of Lynchburg and five surrounding counties, ensuring they pay no more than $14,000 a year in tuition. The new LEAP Plus program adds 17 new counties and cities, including Augusta, Craig, Roanoke and Rockbridge counties, and the city of Roanoke. Students in the new LEAP plus program will be required to live on campus, but will pay no more than $21,000 in tuition, room, and board.
Carter said one of the things school officials constantly talk about in the admissions office and on campus is providing a quality, affordable education for students.
“There are so many schools out there, in my opinion, that are selling out of the market, and we don’t want to be one of those schools,” Carter said.
From fall 2003 to spring 2022, Sweet Briar College tuition has increased by approximately 16%. Amherst County’s private nonprofit women’s college recorded its highest tuition rate from 2017 to 2018 at $37,155.
In 2018, Sweet Briar enacted a tuition reset, which current Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo described as “one of the most massive tuition resets ever in the country for a private establishment”.
The move came just a few years after former college leaders unsuccessfully tried to shut down the school in 2015. Alumni, students, faculty and supporters have united to save Sweet Briar through legal action , social media and a fundraising campaign.
“There are a lot of colleges over the past few years that have done what’s called a tuition reset,” Woo said. “But even so, I think ours was radical in its transparency.”
The reset reduced tuition to $21,000, down nearly 44% from 2017. Woo said lowering the price was important to compete with other public universities.
“I believe part of the reason we did this is because … the vast majority of the colleges we compete with are public institutions – like [University of Virginia]like Virginia Tech, like [Virginia Commonwealth University]like Longwood [University]. So at some level we have to be able to compete with them and so it’s very important for us to control pricing,” Woo said.
Along with the reset, students have access to more than 200 scholarships, according to Woo.
The cost of tuition at Lynchburg University has increased by approximately 81.5% since 2001. The university experienced its highest rate in fall 2020 at $41,880, a year before the reset of their price. The price reset lowered the price of tuition and fees to $33,500, a drop of 20%.
Michael Jones, the university’s vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications, said the reset has helped families.
“The tuition update has proven to be especially helpful for families who have experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic,” Jones said in a statement.
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Aaron Basko said that over the past three years the school has made changes to ensure that every incoming student receives some sort of scholarship.
“At Lynchburg University, we have worked hard to control costs and ensure that families receive an education that is great value for their money,” Basko said in a statement.