Some colleges and universities are offering tuition discounts ranging from 10% to 30% for the spring 2021 semester because of the coronavirus pandemic. These announcements go beyond freezing tuition or temporarily suspending certain fees for students and their families as the country wrestles with a deep economic downturn.
Though some students are being invited to return to campus in the spring, at some colleges only students who choose instead to continue learning online and living off campus are eligible for a tuition discount. This is the case at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, which is welcoming to campus “any student who wants to be here,” the college’s website reads.
“All students will choose whether to study from home or come to campus,” the website continues. “Those who choose to study from home will receive a 10 percent reduction on their tuition.”
Other institutions, like Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, will not extend to 2021 the tuition discounts offered to students in 2020. The university’s website notes that “the 10% tuition reduction for the fall was a one-time occurrence included in a package of supports in recognition of the hardships associated with our change of plans for the semester,” and spring 2021 tuition will return to its regular rate.
The move to remote instruction in early 2020 ignited questions from families and students about the value of online education versus in-person learning, with some creating petitions calling for tuition discounts for the duration of online instruction. But most colleges chose not to offer a tuition discount, citing significant budget shortfalls and arguing that virtual instruction is both up to academic standards and, in some cases, more costly than in-person instruction.
Some discounts apply to all undergraduates while others are for a specific group of students, so students should contact their respective college to learn if they qualify. Here, the phrase “tuition discount” describes any tuition discount, reduction or cut for the spring semester that is attributed to the financial burden families face in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
These are some of the colleges that have announced tuition discounts for undergraduates for the spring 2021 semester:
— American University, 10%
— George Washington University, 10%
— Georgetown University, 10%
— Lafayette College, 10%
— National University, 25%
— Princeton University, 10%
— Rowan University, 10%
— Spelman College, 10%
— Thomas University, 30%
— University of Illinois, 25%
— West Chester University of Pennsylvania, 11% to 22%
— Williams College, 15%
The duration of these offers, and details on what is discounted and for which students, vary across institutions. Students should check with their college for more information.
“A discount in the most classical sense is cutting the price for a particular set of students, like athletes and first-generation students, populations schools are trying to attract,” says Ken Redd, senior director of research and policy analysis at the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
These COVID-19 measures may be thought of as discounts, but Redd says that “when everybody gets the discount it’s really more of a price cut or price reduction.”
National University in California is an example of an institution offering a tuition discount that isn’t across-the-board, meaning only some students will receive the aid to cut costs.
“The pressures on our student body and unemployed citizens from the COVID virus allowed us to do this,” says David Andrews, National University president. There are multiple ways students can receive a discount, he says, “and the goal is to reduce the overall expenses for our students by 25%.”
A combination of opportunity scholarships and consumption scholarships — for example, getting four courses for the cost of three — will play a role in cutting student costs, Andrews says.
Tuition discounts at private colleges were already on the rise before the pandemic hit. According to the annual NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study, the 2019-2020 tuition discount rate was about 53% for first-time, full-time, first-year students and about 48% for all undergraduates, which were both record highs.
“Between the tuition discounts and broad-based price reductions,” Redd says, “we expect to see a substantial increase in the use of grant aid to support undergraduate students.”
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Update 12/09/20: This article has been updated with spring 2021 discounts.