Elizabethtown College slashes tuition by nearly a third

Elizabethtown College is cutting annual tuition by more than 30 percent as part of an initiative to make college costs easier to understand.

The annual price tag for the 2019-2020 academic year will be $32,000, a 32 percent reduction from the $46,940 tuition for 2018-2019, according to the Lancaster County college.

The cut is designed to help parents better understand what they will pay. It is part of an effort at Elizabethtown called “Tuition Transparency,” launched on Sept. 12.

“A lot of parents feel a good private college education will cost a lot, so they don’t look beyond the tuition cost to look at factors such as four-year graduation rate. Tuition Transparency places easy-to-grasp numbers right up front, so students and their families can understand more clearly how much they will pay for college,” said Carl Strikwerda, Elizabethtown’s president.

Another college also recently slashed tuition: St. John’s College, which has campuses in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is cutting tuition from $52,000 to $35,000.

Strikwerda said college administrators have noticed an increasing trend among parents to eliminate colleges solely on cost. The 2017 Sallie Mae/Ipsos survey, “How America Pays for College,” indicated that more than 69 percent of families surveyed eliminated a college during the selection process because of cost.

Many students may see what they think is a bottom-line price at Elizabethtown, and, therefore, view an Elizabethtown education as unattainable.

“They don’t even apply, because the tuition is so high,” Strikwerda said. “Although many students receive financial aid awards, the reality is that many did not know they were eligible for financial aid or understand how it worked.” 

Currently 98 percent of undergraduate students at Elizabethtown receive some type of aid, whether it be grants or scholarships. The average award given out is around $25,000.

The college’s senior staff and board of trustees spent the last 15 months evaluating options for making tuition easier to understand, and communicating with colleges who have taken a similar step.

“We think $32,000 is a figure parents and students can wrap their head around,” Strikwerda said.”While there is a concern about the total cost of a college education, the studies indicate families are willing to pay more if they feel there’s a good value. We recently added new programs or upgraded existing ones to fit the interests of students and today’s job market. We now have programs in biomedical engineering, data science and civil engineering.”

Undergraduate enrollment at Elizabethtown has dipped slightly over the last five years. Full-time enrollment was about 1,800 students in 2012-13; today it is 1,636. Strikwerda said that’s in line with a nationwide trend.

“People are questioning the value of a four-year degree versus the cost. But during the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for people with four-year college degrees was less than for those without a degree,” he said. “People often hold up the examples of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as people who have been successful without college degrees, but I respond by pointing out that they hired people with college degrees.”

Elizabethtown also is committing to a four-year graduation guarantee for every student. The college will pay for up to one additional semester of tuition for any student not able to graduate in four years (through no fault of their own).

In addition to creating new business and engineering programs and master’s degrees, the college recently completed a new sports center and added new housing options.

“There is great momentum at the college,” Strikwerda said. “Addressing college tuition is central to ensuring that the momentum continues.”

Founded in 1899, Elizabethtown College is located on a 204-acres campus in Elizabethtown. The college offers 50 majors and over 100 minors/concentrations.

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