Another local university lowers its sticker price

The University of the Sciences has announced its plan to roll back tuition, and reduce aid, in a “tuition reset” to better compete for a smaller pool of high school graduates.

Recovering from a deficit and layoffs last spring, the University of the Sciences is announcing a plan Wednesday to roll back its tuition sticker price by 37 percent next year in a bid to appeal to a wider swath of applicants.

Freshmen in fall 2018 will pay tuition and fees of $25,000, down from $39,994 this year. As with other tuition resets, the university also will reduce aid it gives to students, meaning few will actually save anywhere near $15,000.

The aim, said Patricia Vanston, vice president for business development and enrollment management, is to become more transparent about what college actually costs, with an eye towards attracting a broader base of students.

“What we’re really trying to get out there is what a wonderful opportunity this school provides,” Vanston said. “We think people are not even getting to know that because of the sticker price.”

The West Philadelphia university becomes the fourth college in the region to “reset tuition,” as colleges locally and nationally struggle to compete for fewer high school graduates.

Rosemont College, a private Catholic school on the Main Line, was the first in 2016, followed by two other private Catholic schools — La Salle University in Philadelphia’s Logan section and Immaculata University in Malvern. Their resets take effect this fall.

La Salle, which announced a 29 percent cut in tuition sticker price last September, enrolled 956 freshmen this semester, its largest class in 25 years.

Transfer students also rose from 108 to 142, and some new students came from California and other states which had shown little interest in  the school in the past, said president Colleen M. Hanycz. Local interest grew, too, she said. La Salle attracted 21 freshmen from La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, including the class president, up from three in 2016. The private college prep high school is run by the Christian Brothers, the same religious community overseeing the university.

Tuesday September 27, 2016 LaSalle University president Colleen Hanycz happily greets juniors Marissa Beaver , , center, and Emily Paynter, right after announcing a tuition reset Tuesday. Ed Hille / Staff Photographer
Camera icon Ed Hille / Staff Photographer
LaSalle University president Colleen Hanycz greeting juniors Marissa Beaver (center) and Emily Paynter after announcing a tuition reset in September 2016.

“The tuition reset got people to the table,” said Tom Delahunt, La Salle’s vice president for enrollment services. “It got folks to consider us who weren’t considering us before.”

USciences hopes to attract similar interest. In addition to resetting tuition for next year’s freshmen, the university also announced that it would freeze tuition and fees for those students at $25,000 for all four years, for a total of $100,000.

Pharmacy and occupational and physical therapy students, whose doctoral degrees take six years, will be locked in at a total of $190,000, she said. Students in these programs will save a minimum of $30,000 over six years, Vanston said.

While current undergraduates will not be reset, their costs will be frozen at this year’s rate.

Room and board rates are not part of the reset and could rise. Students will pay about $15,600 this year.

The reset follows a tumultuous spring when the school laid off faculty and staff and cut programs in the wake of a $4.5 million shortfall in its $90 million budget. Enrollment had fallen from about 2,500 in 2011-12 to 2,100 in 2016-17.

The school, Vanston said, had been raising tuition 3.5 percent to 4 percent a year, “a point of dissatisfaction” for students.

Vanston said she reached out to officials at other schools that have reset their tuition. “One question I asked all of them is would you do it again, and they all said yes,” she said.

More than two dozen colleges have reset tuition in recent decades with various degrees of success. Lucie Lapovsky, a former college president-turned-consultant, two years ago completed a study on eight colleges that rolled back tuition. Seven saw increases in freshman enrollment the first year, and of the four that made the change several years ago, all had maintained the increase, she found. Five had an increase in tuition revenue as a result of greater enrollment.

At Rosemont, applications rose 64 percent and enrollment 15 percent in the first year. For this fall, applications rose slightly from last year’s record, while undergraduate enrollment dipped by a few students. Rosemont officials remain pleased with results of the tuition reset.

Camera icon Charles Fox / Staff Photographer
Rosemont College in 2015 announced it would cut its tuition sticker price 43 percent and knock $1,900 off room and board in a bid to attract families scared away by a price tag that had topped $46,000. As a result, applications to the small Catholic college rose 64 percent and the freshman class rose by a third. Sharon L. Hirsh is president of Rosemont College.

“The academic quality of the students entering Rosemont has increased year over year for the past two years,” said Sharon L. Hirsh, president.

At La Salle, the largest school in the region to launch a reset, full-time undergraduate enrollment is expected to reach 3,171, up nearly 3 percent from last year, the school reports.

La Salle increased freshman enrollment while improving the quality of the class, said Delahunt. The average GPA of incoming freshmen rose, Delahunt said, and 9 percent of the class is in the honors program, more than in recent years.

University officials, he said, had to spend time educating families on how the new pricing structure works. Receiving less aid, he said, “doesn’t mean we love them any less.”

On average, La Salle students will pay about $1,700 less under the new structure than if the college had raised tuition 3.5 percent, as it typically had done, Delahunt said. Tuition, fees and room and board at La Salle this year are $43,476, down from $54,680 last year, before aid.

Students seemed to get the message.

“I was looking here before they reset tuition,” said freshman Bridget Broscius, 18, of Abington, as she browsed in the bookstore. “That kind of bumped it to the top.”

Freshman Harry Scanlon, 18, of Willow Grove, said that he primarily was attracted to La Salle because of its accounting program and internship opportunities, but that the tuition reset ended up sealing the deal.

“I can put myself in a good position for the future and come out with hardly any debt,” he said.

La Salle implemented the tuition reset as one component of a plan to bring the school back from a deficit.

At Immaculata, the tuition reset didn’t appear to have much impact on freshmen enrollment, which actually dropped by 10 students. But Gerald J. Wargo Jr., vice president for enrollment management, attributed that to timing. Immaculata announced its reset in January, about four months after La Salle.

Transfer students increased by eight. Overall enrollment is projected to be under 870, down nearly 9 percent from last year.

“We’re really feeling good for fall 2018,” Wargo said. “Everything is in place.”