The Sewanee Strategy

Trustees at Sewanee, the University of the South, have decided to take the unusual step of cutting tuition and fees for next year. No, not just not raising the rate; the school is actually going to cost less money next year. No one does this. Sewanee made this decision because the private Tennessee school is increasingly competing with nearby public universities.

According to an article by Jenna Johnson at the Washington Post:

Sewanee… reduced the cost to attend next school year by 10 percent.

The price reduction applies to tuition, fees, room and board, decreasing the overall cost to attend Sewanee from around $46,000 to about $41,500. In doing so, the university will also change how it administers financial aid to better target it to students in need. But officials say no students will pay more next year than they pay now, and most will pay less.

This is because the institution to which Sewanee loses the majority of its admitted applicants is the University of Georgia. A number of admitted potential Sewanee students also choose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee, and UVA. These students say they’re going elsewhere because of price, according to a piece in Inside Higher Ed.

Sewanee cut its price because it wanted to keep the costs in-line with what a student from out of state would pay to attend a public university. That would be about $38,000 a year at UGA, for instance.

Sewanee initially tried to do something else, something most colleges do, according to the Inside Higher Ed article:

The current dynamic, [Sewanee Presidnet John] McCardell said, is for Sewanee to spend heavily on merit aid for top students who are admitted both there and to far less expensive public institutions. And that has forced up the discount rate — the percentage off sticker price that reflects the various forms of aid provided to students — to a trajectory he said can’t continue.

Students are starting to make decisions about where to attend college based on real costs. This is something it’s about time for colleges to actually recognize.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer