Western NY university cuts tuition in half after declining enrollment at colleges nationwide

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CANEADEA, N.Y. (WROC) — Enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities continues to drop at a historic rate and the pandemic has intensified the issue. 

While the number of undergrads has been going down over the past decade, during the pandemic schools saw declines of more than 3% both in 2020 and 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Now, colleges in Western New York are looking at ways to attract more students and one way of doing that: cost. 

Houghton College, a private Christian liberal arts college in Caneadea, decided to cut tuition by 50% last year. Starting this fall, the tuition rate for students was $15,900 before financial aid, the lowest it’s been in 20 years. It’s also a 53% dip compared to 2020-2021 costs.

The president of the college, Dr. Wayne Lewis, said the decision was important on two fronts. 

“One, in reducing cost to make sure that higher education, which we know is becoming more and more expensive, is in fact accessible for young people who come from low income backgrounds,” Lewis said.

He said the second reason it’s important comes from his own experience in K-12 schools. Lewis said many institutions significantly reduce the amount students actually end up paying, but it’s not super widely known. Before their pricing reset at Houghton, Lewis said tuition and fees would cost around $30,000 for students. However, he said very few actually paid that amount.  

“That sticker price can scare students away and I think it’s actually the rare student who looks at a really high sticker price and says, ‘Well, after I’ve applied and financial aid is applied, I won’t actually end up paying that much for many things,’ especially first generation students that sticker price is enough for students to say, ‘I don’t think I can afford to go to college.’ And that’s the last thing we want to do.”

Lewis added the pricing reset not only reduced cost but also increased transparency among students and families. 

Like other schools across the nation, Houghton has seen enrollment decline over the past decade. Recently, News 8 investigated a 20% drop in enrollment at SUNY schools since 2010.

Lewis is hopeful making tuition more affordable will attract more students and in turn, benefit their futures.  

“In order for young people to have a shot at being professionally successful and making a wage where they can, take care of themselves and a family, they’re going to have to have some degree of college education, whether that’s a certificate or diploma, a two year degree, or a four year degree,” Lewis said. “So it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that a much larger portion of our young people are matriculating immediately into post secondary education so that they can get the skills and knowledge that they need to live the type of lives that we want them to live.”

To also help boost enrollment, Lewis said they have expanded their work with Houghton College Buffalo and their online college as well, which is something that became more important during the pandemic with more online learning. 

“As we think about the hope of the future, we believe the residential campus will continue to be a centerpiece of what we do. But the possibilities of delivering a home college education through those different platforms is really exciting for us,” Lewis said. 

Lewis also said they are putting more emphasis on their digital marketing and advertising to attract more students and to help get the word out about Houghton. 

“We’re being more intentional with building strategic partnerships with schools, Christian schools, as well as public schools and helping to build pipelines that we’ll see students matriculate into Houghton college. That includes both schools domestically within our region, as well as schools in the south and internationally.”

As another incentive to encourage excitement about college, the school is offering a change for students to receive free textbooks for four years if they submit their application to Houghton by Nov. 15. You can read more about the incentive here.

Houghton College says with their tuition reset, they are now offering one of the lowest tuition rates of any college in the Western New York region. 

To learn more about the campus and to read about the tuition reset, click here. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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