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Sweet Briar Will Reset Tuition

September 7, 2017
 
 

Sweet Briar College will cut its sticker price by about a third next year, it said Wednesday in an announcement that also detailed a series of planned curricular changes.

The small private women’s college in rural Virginia will drop its sticker price for tuition, room, board and fees by 32 percent to $34,000 for the 2018-19 academic year. Both new and returning students will be covered by the change.

Next year’s price cut is a tuition reset strategy, a strategy which has been drawing interest at many private colleges and universities recently. Tuition resets have been pitched as a way to counter the rise of tuition discounting -- the near-ubiquitous practice of institutions regularly raising their sticker prices but also offsetting their price hikes by offering increasing amounts of financial aid. In theory, tuition resets can attract more students by grabbing attention or by convincing students that they can pay for colleges that previously seemed too expensive. But resets’ chances of success remain controversial.

Sweet Briar will be resetting tuition just three years after it nearly closed. Its former board announced plans in March of 2015 to shut down the college at the end of that academic year despite the fact it had a considerable endowment, pointing to a rising tuition discount rate, poor admissions trends and the challenge of recruiting students to women’s colleges. Alumnae fought the closure and won a court battle to keep the college open under new leadership.

Currently, Sweet Briar’s tuition discount rate fluctuates between 65 percent and 68 percent, according to its president, Meredith Woo. After the tuition reset, its discount rate is expected to drop below 40 percent.

“It opens us up in a transparent, honest and simple way to families that really want to understand what’s available for their children,” Woo said. “We also want to make it very clear that at that rate, we are actually competitive price-wise with flagship public universities.”

The University of Virginia estimates a yearly cost of attendance of over $31,000 for new in-state students in its College of Arts and Sciences, before financial aid. It estimates roughly $62,000 to $63,000 for out-of-state residents.

Sweet Briar will also be rolling out substantial curricular changes next year. The college is revising its core curriculum around women’s leadership and reorganizing its academic departments into three interdisciplinary centers. It is also changing from 15-week semesters to a 3-12-12-3-week schedule. The new schedule’s short terms will allow for research, internship and study abroad.

Woo had written about some of the curricular changes at the end of August in a letter that also said Sweet Briar enrolled a new class of 95 students this year. But the college’s announcement Wednesday included new details, including that every undergraduate student will be eligible to receive up to $2,000 to fund experiential learning.

The near-simultaneous announcement of the tuition reset and curricular revamp come amid a period of change for the rebooted Sweet Briar. Woo started as president in May, taking over for the retiring Phillip C. Stone, who was brought in to lead the college after alumnae stopped its closure.

“We studied it very carefully,” Woo said of timing the tuition reset announcement. “We discussed it with the Board of Directors very intensely and we decided that the right time to do it is when we are coming up with new academic ideas.”

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