$10,000 tuition cut pays off for St. Paul's Concordia University

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 10:08 PM
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At Concordia University in St. Paul, Carrie Reber, son Josh, and husband Steve all brought up Josh’s stuff into Wollaeger Hall. Carrie and Steve met at Concordia when they went to school there.

Photo: RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII , Star Tribune

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 Last spring, as Linzy Heim was narrowing down her list of college choices, she got a call from the softball coach at Concordia University in St. Paul.

Did she know that the century-old Lutheran college was slashing its tuition by $10,000?

Her mom, Denice, was stunned.

“When we started looking, the tuition was quite frightening,” she said. The price cut helped seal the deal.

Last weekend, Linzy, an All-Star softball pitcher from Plattsmouth, Neb., moved into the freshman women’s dorm, Luther Hall, as part of Concordia’s biggest entering class in decades.

At a time of growing angst about the cost of a college education, Concordia is one of a handful of schools that have bucked the national trend and slashed their sticker prices this year, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

The small school’s grand gesture ­— to roll back undergraduate tuition from $29,700 to $19,700 this fall — has paid off dramatically. The number of new students has jumped 65 percent, setting a record for both freshmen and transfers.

You might think that a 33-percent price cut would put a substantial dent in a school’s income. But in the convoluted world of college financing, nothing’s that simple. In Concordia’s case, the school actually came out ahead.

Almost no one was paying full price anyway, said Eric LaMott, the school’s senior vice president and professor of kinesiology. Yet the sticker price, surveys showed, was scaring away potential students. “People don’t even look at you if you’re over a certain price point,” LaMott said.

As its price crept up, Concordia found it had to keep upping its financial aid to attract students. By last year, the school was subsidizing more than 40 percent of tuition costs out of its own coffers, through scholarships and grants.

“We charged $29,700, [but] we gave 40 percent back,” said Kristin Vogel, the director of undergraduate admission. So they asked the question: “Why not bring the sticker price down?”

The news, announced last September, grabbed headlines across the country. Concordia was flooded with calls, many asking if “this was real,” said Vogel.

And it got the attention of prospective students and their families.

“I was pretty excited,” said Margot Cowing, of Springdale, Ark., whose son is a freshman this year. “Most places are raising tuition; nobody’s cutting.”

The dorms are full

Since announcing the “tuition reset,” as officials like to call it, Concordia has faced an onslaught of pleasant challenges. Campus visits soared by 30 percent; so did applications. Now, the dorms are full for the first time in years; the school had to convert unused space into extra classrooms.

Total undergraduate enrollment hit 1,375 for the first time.

The crowds were visible last weekend, as freshmen lined up in the chapel to sign up for meal plans and mailboxes, and paraded through the dorms hauling futons, popcorn makers and flat-screen TVs.

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