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

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 31, 2013 - 10:08 PM

(Room and board stayed the same as last year: $7,750).

Ben Herwig, a freshman from Portage, Wis., had Concordia on his radar for some time, said his dad, Cory. But the price cut made it even more appealing.

“It was probably the best rate of any of the schools we looked at in Wisconsin,” he said.

Carrie Reber, of Fort Worth, Texas, said the price tag was clearly a consideration for her 18-year-old son, Josh, who is starting his freshman year. “Well, money is money,” she said. “Ten thousand dollars is a big chunk that you don’t have to borrow.”

Reber, a Concordia grad herself, said she read about the tuition cut in her alumni newsletter. She and her husband, Steve, met at the St. Paul campus as undergraduates in the early ’80s.

Steve Reber laughed when asked what it cost back then. Less than $4,000, he recalled, for room, board and tuition. “I had to take out a $750 student loan,” he said. “That was big money.”

Concordia figured it would break even if it boosted new-student enrollment by 20 percent. They tripled expectations. As of the first day of class Thursday, 462 new undergrads enrolled at Concordia — an all-time high — up from 279 last year. That includes an increase in international students, who pay a higher rate, Vogel noted.

With the new price, the school reduced the amount it spent on financial aid from $13,454 to $4,176, on average, per student.

Even so, all undergraduates, including returning students, are paying less than they would have last year, said Vogel. “It’s not just a shell game. We wanted students to see a savings,” she said.

Nor has the school cut programs to save money, she said. In fact, it added five new faculty members this year.

‘Can you sustain that?’

Few, though, predict that the idea of cutting tuition will catch fire anytime soon.

“It’s been tried before,” said Paul Hassen, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. While he called it a “bold move,” he said the benefits may be short lived. “Yes, you’re getting a bump in students,” he said, but “can you sustain that? Because unfortunately, the expenses to run the college continue to go up.”

So far, no other university in Minnesota has followed Concordia’s lead.

While the state’s public colleges froze tuition this year, private schools raised tuition an average of 3.5 percent, according to the Minnesota Private College Council. Concordia’s tuition is now well below the private school average of nearly $35,000 this year.

But that doesn’t mean students at other private schools are paying that much more, said David R. Anderson, president of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. “Something like 84 percent of our students are receiving some form of financial aid,” he said.

At the same time, he says all colleges and universities are feeling the pressure to rein in costs. “I do think that the current model is unsustainable over time,” he said, “and I do think that people are pushing back.”

The question comes down to this: how to provide the kind of education “students want and deserve” and still can afford, he said. “Everybody’s scrambling to figure [that] out right now.”

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