Enrollment rises at Rosemont after big tuition cut

Rosemont freshman Isabella Moraschi, with her parents Lewis and Mary Beth Moraschi in front of Good Counsel Hall on campus. The Moraschis, from Marlton, were attracted by the school's 43 percent tuition cut.

Isabella Moraschi almost had decided on another local school when her mother received a large postcard in January about Rosemont College slashing its sticker price for 2016-17 - by 43 percent.

The small Catholic college on the Main Line last September announced it would cut tuition and knock an additional $1,900 off room and board in a bid to attract families scared away by college costs that had topped $46,000.

It worked on the Moraschi family, of Marlton.

Rosemont's new $30,000 price tag for tuition and room and board wasn't much more than that of Pennsylvania State University or Temple University.

"That definitely put Rosemont on the radar," said Mary Beth Moraschi, mother of the now-freshman at Rosemont.

To be clear, students saved nowhere near $16,000 under Rosemont's new pricing structure. Rosemont, like many similar colleges, doled out so much financial aid in the past that few students paid close to the sticker price. It's called discounting. So, along with its tuition cut, Rosemont also lowered its financial aid awards.

As a result, students saved on average $815.

But Rosemont's effort was about more than saving students a little bit of money. It was about sending a message to the next generation of students that a private college, like Rosemont, is within their financial reach.

Rosemont president Sharon Hirsh said she was particularly pleased that the percentage of students from families with incomes between $75,000 and $125,000 - who don't qualify for federal or state grants and may feel they can't afford a higher sticker price - increased by 13 students or 62 percent. The Moraschi family was among that group.

"We thought that would be a whole new public for us, and we were right," Hirsh said.

Applications soared 64 percent, from 863 to 1,412, as news of the tuition cut got local and national media coverage, Hirsh said. As a result, traditional undergraduate enrollment including freshmen and transfers rose nearly 15 percent, from 446 students to 512, she said. That includes a 31 percent increase in freshmen.

Chase McKain, 18, of Pottstown, heard about it when a Rosemont official came to his high school.

The soccer player saw his sister graduate from Hofstra University in New York with $200,000 in debt and didn't want that. His father is disabled and his mother works as an administrative assistant. He knew money was tight.

"It was a no-brainer to come here," he said.

He expects to have less than $50,000 in debt.

Several upperclassmen who work as tour guides said they have noticed increased interest in Rosemont since the tuition cut.

"We're actually on the map now," said Mary Manfredi, 20, a junior from Ocean Township, N.J. She said she saved enough money in room and board to be able to afford a single room this year.

"We're a nice small school with not a big price tag," added Gabrielle Ferrara, 20, a sophomore from Havertown.

More than two dozen colleges nationally have reset tuition in recent decades with varying success.

Utica College in New York reduced its tuition 42 percent and its room and board 13 percent for this academic year. The college saw a 6 percent increase in freshmen and a 56 percent increase in transfer students, said Jeffery Gates, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

Lucie Lapovsky, a former college president-turned-consultant, last year 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.

Some colleges that reset tuition see a drop in low-income students. Rosemont saw a small dip in new student families with incomes less than $75,000.

The average reading and math SAT of incoming freshmen rose from 892 to 922, Hirsh said, while average GPA remained flat.

Rosemont has had tough times. Founded in 1921 as a women's college, the school was facing a $1 million deficit in its then $20 million budget when it went coed in 2009. Though finances have improved, the college still faces the same challenges as many other small private schools, operating in a highly competitive market with a shrinking pool of high school students.

Hirsh said the college is no longer running a deficit, nor does it have a surplus. Additional revenue from the increase in enrollment went toward furniture, classroom upgrades, and personnel, she said.

The college will freeze tuition again for 2017-18, at $18,500. Room and board, which was $11,500, will increase 4 percent to about $11,960, she said.

Overall, Hirsh said she's pleased with the results.

"The only thing that was kind of a surprise is that there were no surprises," she said.

Rosemont hopes to raise its traditional enrollment to more than 600 students in the next one to two years, Hirsh said. (Overall enrollment, including adult undergrads and graduate students, tops 1,100.)

While the tuition price attracted the Moraschis initially, it wasn't what sealed the deal. Isabella Moraschi liked Rosemont's cross-country coach and its sense of close-knit community. The family quickly fell in love with its castlelike buildings.

"When I saw the main castle, I burst into tears," Moraschi's mother said. "I was like, 'How can you make this happen for us?' "