Tuition Resets: When and Why They Work

This month, Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) announced it is lowering the sticker price for tuition and mandatory fees by more than half for Fall 2018. The elite private college becomes perhaps the most selective institution to move away from a high-tuition/high-discount model, even as several other colleges have announced tuition resets during the past few weeks. An in-depth Inside Higher Ed article, “The Tuition-Reset Strategy,” reports on the complex considerations, varying motivations, and risks/rewards involved in resetting tuition.

The Lawlor Group is very well aware of the conditions that are necessary for the success of a tuition reset strategy, as BSC is the fourth client we have partnered with to plan, launch, communicate, and publicize a reset. In our assessment, the institution must already be doing three things:

  • Offering a relevant “product” experience—The college must have a culture that (a) is responsive to the needs of its students, and (b) evolves its programs and pedagogy to meet marketplace demands and provide lasting value.
  • Delivering successful results—The retention, four-year graduation, graduate school acceptance, and job placement rates must demonstrate that a college’s students are able to achieve their intended outcomes of attending the college.
  • Managing its expenses—The college must have a culture of fiscal prudence and a willingness to cost-consciously assess the effectiveness of its offerings and constantly strive to keep its operating costs in check.

These are required factors because a tuition reset should do much more than simply garner heightened awareness about itself. Lowering tuition will not in and of itself persuade students to select a college. The key is showing them a better published price for what they will get—which must include quality and outcomes, but also confidence in the college’s fiscal responsibility.

The published price at many private colleges is a very real obstacle to consideration, let alone selection. By facilitating the realization that a private college education is financially feasible—and then providing persuasive evidence that the lowered published price further enhances the investment value—colleges that adjust their tuition downward can also reset the thinking of students and families about their college choices.


IHE on Tuition Resets

In the article, The Lawlor Group draws attention to the necessity for long-term planning when deciding on a reset. (Inside Higher Ed)

Our Birmingham-Southern Work 

In the blog post, we describe what our clients who have successfully implemented tuition resets have in common. (Smarketplace)

Private College Sticker Shock

This article looks at the price tags and discount rates in Minnesota and asks whether the model is “starting to crumble.” (Star Tribune)


Lawlor Recommends

Repeatedly raising an already high sticker price is unsustainable, and few analysts would disagree. Yet much of the higher ed reporting and industry discussion of tuition resets seems to be seeking to uncover “what’s in it for the college”—as if the college is assumed to have unstated motives. And perhaps there is a hidden agenda for institutions that reset their tuition while lacking quality, outcomes, and good fiscal stewardship.

But if you encounter a college that is resetting its tuition and that college provides an in-demand education that gets results for its graduates, then consider taking at face value its statement that “we’re doing this for our students.”

With a tuition reset, students may pay substantially less out of pocket. They may be able to lower their student loan amounts. They may realize future cost savings. And they may cross a perception barrier to discover the college really is within their financial reach. In each of these instances, “doing right by students” will reflect favorably on the college, to cascading positive effects.

When a strong college does a tuition reset, why it works can be distilled into a simple formulation: What’s good for students is good for the college.