Cumberlands Slashing Tuition by 57%

September 5, 2018

The University of the Cumberlands in southeastern Kentucky plans to cut tuition by 57 percent for all on-campus undergraduates next year, it announced Tuesday.

As a result, the tuition sticker price for the small Baptist university will fall from $23,000 this year to $9,875 in 2019-20, before counting room and board. The move drops the university’s posted tuition to be on par with public four-year institutions in the state, its leaders said.

While undergraduate tuition will be covered by the pricing change, graduate tuition will not, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. That’s a key point, because the University of the Cumberlands’ enrollment skews heavily toward graduate students, with 1,366 undergraduates and 9,000 graduate students.

Nonetheless, the undergraduate tuition reset makes the University of the Cumberlands the latest and one of the most extreme examples of an institution following a tuition reset strategy. Tuition resets attempt to rein in private universities’ high-tuition, high-discount model, in which many enrolled students receive large amounts of financial aid and never actually pay the full posted tuition sticker price.

The idea is that resetting tuition can attract new students by grabbing the attention of families who were previously scared off by high sticker prices. In theory, it can be done without giving up much net tuition revenue per student, if tuition discounts are slashed in lockstep with sticker prices. But the strategy carries some risks, as private universities resetting tuition will lose revenue from any students who previously would have paid full price or near full price. The strategy could also cut into a university’s ability to attract top students with financial aid.

A significant number of institutions reset tuition this fall after announcing the moves last year. Many of them cut tuition by between 30 percent and 40 percent -- a much smaller reset than the University of the Cumberlands is planning. And even one that announced a 51 percent reset, Birmingham-Southern College, kept its tuition and fees much higher at $17,650, before room and board.

Including room and board, attending the University of the Cumberlands will cost $19,175 for undergraduates after the reset is in place. This year it costs $32,000. Current students are in line to save $1,298 on average, according to the university. Academic, athletic and extracurricular scholarships will still be available.

The university cast the move as part of its mission to serve students from the Appalachian region, from which it draws 82 percent of its students. Out-of-pocket costs will not increase for any students, the university’s president, Larry L. Cockrum, said in a statement.

“We want all students to know that with Cumberlands there is a clear and affordable path to a college degree,” he said.

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