Phi Beta Cons

The Private-College Scramble

Inside Higher Ed has a story today about private schools scrambling to meet their “enrollment targets.” In Pennsylvania alone, the story says, two dozen schools are still looking for students for the fall.

One is Widener University, where an admissions official, Edwin Wright, is responding to a changing environment. He tells Ry Rivard of IHE that “he saw multiple colleges offer aid packages worth up to 80 percent of their sticker price to the same student with a below-2.5 grade point average and a 940 on the SAT.” The publication continues: “Wright said Widener was reacting to aid packages offered by other schools that were for ‘really average students.’”

This story touches on the duplicity of the colleges that use what is politely called the “high tuition-high discount” model. First, the high tuition, says IHE, “can lead to confusion among applicants who believe the price a college says it charges is what the college actually costs. “

Second, it can fool parents into thinking their children are getting merit aid when really the school is trying to fill up classrooms and dormitories. “Most colleges offer students huge discounts in the form of need-based aid for low-income students and ‘merit’ aid for students from population groups they would like to enroll.”

Of course, some students are offered merit aid, and deserve it. But this story suggests that some schools are frantic.

That does not bode well for the qualified students who attend, for the schools’ financial condition, or the for future of less-selective private colleges.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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