Going Tuition Free

At a time of steadily rising tuitions, Saint Louis Christian College is going the other way -- all the way the other way.

February 16, 2005

At a time of steadily rising tuitions, Saint Louis Christian College is going the other way -- all the way the other way.

The college announced Monday that beginning this fall, it would stop charging tuition to full-time students who live on its Florissant, Mo., campus, and slash by half its tuition for part-time commuter students. Full-time residential students will now pay about $6,000 a year for room, board and a student service fee, down from an average of $10,000 in tuition and fees.

The move was driven by several factors. First, and most altruistically, college officials said they were increasingly concerned about the debt load (averaging about $14,000) of their graduates, many of whom work for little pay undertaking religious missions in farflung places. "A lot of them drop out" of the clergy, says Tom Wallace, the college's director of development, "because they just don't earn enough," and the debt they accumulated in college doesn't help the situation.

The college has also seen a drop in enrollments in recent years, which was exacerbated when Central Christian College, one of three bible colleges it most competes against for students, abandoned tuition for full-time students who maintained a 2.0 average. Declining enrollments have increased Saint Louis's dependence on fund raising -- 45 percent of its funds come from private gifts -- and forced it to take on debt.

Concluding that the "current method of operation was not working the way we wanted it to," college officials decided to go tuition free. The college has invested heavily in dormitory and classroom enhancements, and right now only 35 percent of its dorm space is occupied, and it loses money on auxiliary services like housing and food services. 

College officials say that they can double or triple enrollment without adding any new facilities, and the only additional costs to such growth might be in some additional adjunct faculty members.

They project 55 percent growth in enrollment by the fall, to 268 full-time equivalent students from the current 173, which would result in a tuition loss of about $350,000, which they hope to make up in some additional revenue from housing and food services, plus additional gifts or borrowing. By the following year, however, that loss would be down to $130,000, and by the third year, they foresee a small surplus in revenue through the arrangement, Wallace says.

The college will make one other change as part of the no-tuition shift that is designed both to save itself money and improve its students' experiences. It will step up its service requirements so that students will work with churches, community groups and other entities in their sophomore through senior years. But in their freshman year, students will be required to work on the campus, Wallace says, filling jobs that the college now pays students to do. 

That way, the college can gauge the students' work ethic and dependability, and "once we feel comfortable with them," Wallace says, "we can recommend them to the churches."


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