How Colleges Are Adjusting Their 2021-2022 Tuition

The steady drumbeat of annual tuition hikes slowed in 2020 as colleges responded to the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating financial effects on American families. Looking ahead to 2021-2022 tuition rates, families can expect much of the same as colleges may take a similar approach by freezing tuition or applying only small increases.

Though tuition rose at a historically low rate in the 2020-2021 academic year, students at colleges across the country organized petitions and strikes calling for refunds when classes were moved online due to COVID-19, as well as significant cost reductions.

Willem Morris, a senior at Columbia University in New York, is one such student advocating for reduced tuition for the current spring 2021 semester, along with increased financial aid, and hoping a strike will lead to the long-term upending of what he says are “unfair and extortive” tuition practices. During this strike, students will refuse to pay their owed tuition until certain demands are met.

“For most Americans who have been struggling to find jobs, who have been laid off, who were unable to find the summer jobs they had in the past because of the pandemic, 2020 was an incredibly difficult financial year. It’s really, really frustrating that some schools will be charging more for college in 2021 than they did in 2020 even though people are still struggling,” Morris says. “Students are finally beginning to push back against this.”

Columbia charged $64,380 in tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 year, according to U.S. News data, though the university did provide rebates for some of its fees after classes moved online.

[Read: 10 Most, Least Expensive Private Colleges.]

While current and prospective undergraduate students may hope for a reduction in college costs, small increases or freezes may be more common for the next school year.

Baylor University in Texas, for example, announced its plans to increase 2021-2022 tuition by 2%, saying on its website this increase is smaller than previously planned and was done “in recognition of the economic challenges that many families face due to COVID-19.” Meanwhile, Marquette University in Wisconsin announced it would freeze undergraduate tuition in response to the pandemic.

Michael R. Lovell, president of Marquette, says students can potentially expect this freeze at many other colleges as they seek to support families while struggling with a higher education crisis of their own.

“There will probably be very few schools that have significant tuition increases this year,” Lovell says. “Academic institutions like Marquette need to consider how we can keep costs down, ways we can decrease discretionary spending, and be looking at staffing levels to ensure we can balance what it costs to educate the students and what they’re able to pay,” he says, noting that the university has taken on more expenses due to the pandemic.

[READ: What to Expect When Paying for College in 2021.]

Public colleges and universities face many of the same financial challenges and increased costs due to the pandemic, and these institutions must also navigate state funding cuts.

“We’ve seen pretty much across the board our schools are dealing with budget cuts to varying degrees, and they’ve been fairly significant,” says Bryan J. Cook, vice president of data and policy analysis at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, an organization of nearly 250 member institutions. “So while there may be a lot of other aspects to COVID policies that vary by state, one thing that’s been fairly consistent is the cutting of budgets.”

[Read: Is College Worth the Cost?]

The depth of these cuts and the effects on institutions and students will vary by state, and as the country remains in the early stages of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, much remains unknown for the next academic year.

In spite of potential state funding cuts, revenue losses and the expenses of meeting safety standards to allow students to return to campus, Cook says, “Institutions are very aware of the challenges that face their students and they’re trying to make every effort possible to accommodate students, and particularly low-income students — so if there’s any possibility for adjusting tuition I’m sure it will be on the table.”

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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