Three years ago, the leaders of St. John’s College took a counterintuitive but calculated risk when they decided to cut tuition fees and turned to donors to help make up for the lost income. Some observers think this is reckless; others think it is a public relations stunt. But today, St. John’s is one step closer to achieving the $300 million fundraising goal set in 2018.

The college announced earlier this month that it has raised an additional US$50 million from donors and received a matching grant of US$50 million from the Winiarski Family Foundation. Since launching a five-year fundraising campaign in 2018, this private liberal arts college has raised $245.3 million.

“We are just a lot ahead of schedule,” said Mark Roosevelt, dean of St. John’s College in Santa Fe and principal of the institution, which also has a campus in Annapolis, Maryland.

Fundraising activities are an important part of the school’s tuition replacement plan.Be the administrator of the college Announced a $17,000 tuition cut in 2018Lowering the tuition fee from US$52,000 to US$35,000, they stated that they would make up for the loss of tuition income by raising US$300 million in five years.

The tuition reset has attracted the attention of students and parents, who are very interested in the new transparent pricing. It also aroused the suspicion and optimism of higher education experts, who doubted the sustainability of the college’s new income model.

So far, the gamble has paid off. Since 2018, the admissions, donations and applications of potential students have increased.

The fundraising event will continue for another two years, during which time the college will need to raise another $55 million. Roosevelt said he was confident that the college would reach the $300 million mark.

“We think people are really coming forward,” he said. “For a university of our size, 300 million US dollars is a very, very big goal. Now I know that we will achieve this goal.”

Although St. John’s leaders believe that the tuition reset is a success, experts doubt that many other private institutions will immediately follow suit. The pandemic has depressed enrollment rates and financial instability in many universities. Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said that quite a few institutions are waiting for more evidence that tuition resets are indeed effective.

“In the past few years, I have had a lot of conversations with the university on this matter, but very few people jump in with their feet and actually pull the trigger,” he said.

Gospel of Enrollment

Ben Baum, vice president of admissions, said that admissions officers at St. John’s University processed 1,472 applications this spring—more applications than the college received. This highly competitive college has enrolled 893 students. So far, 297 freshmen have promised to enter two campuses in the fall.

The increase in applications from St. John’s College is a promising sign that the college may be recovering quickly from the economic shock of the pandemic. Like many colleges and universities across the country, admissions to St. John’s University declined during the pandemic. The number of undergraduates dropped to 677 in the 2020-21 academic year from 828 in the previous year.Enrollment has dropped across the country 2.5% with 3.5% Respectively in the fall of 2020 and the spring semester of 2022. Admissions experts are not sure when and if they will return to pre-pandemic levels.

“The good news is [students] I’m back,” Roosevelt said. “In fact, next year, both campuses will offer one of the largest freshman courses in history. “

From 2018 to 2022, the number of applicants to the college increased by 9%. The college’s rate of return—the percentage of admitted students who choose to attend the institution—also increased by 3% over the same period of time.

“Ignoring the pandemic year, I find that the extraordinary thing about these production numbers is how they remain stable and then increase this year,” Baum said. “Usually, as the number of applicants increases, the rate of return decreases.”

Baum said the tuition reset may have contributed to the increase in applications. In recent years, he has had more conversations with prospective students and their families about university fees.

“For middle-class students from middle-class families – for them, $50,000 is a ridiculously large sum of money to consider spending on college tuition – $35,000 can get them to college,” Baum said .

Draeger said that one reason university leaders often hesitate to reset tuition is because the public may interpret the reset as a reduction in the value of education.

“As I have discovered, if the school lowers tuition fees too much, the school will face reputational risk because the students and families studying there think that they want to participate in high-priced, selective institutions and give them many scholarships. “He says.

Angel B. Pérez, chief executive of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, said he has seen this happen in some colleges and universities that are trying to reset tuition.

“I think one thing that some schools have discovered in the past is that when they made major announcements, they sometimes did not receive them in the way they expected,” he said. “So sometimes, they don’t realize that by cutting your tuition fees, you may send a message,’Our financial situation may be problematic.'”

Baum said that St. John’s received almost entirely positive feedback.

“Many people warn us not to reset tuition fees because people may react negatively to the price drop,” Baum said. “However, in our experience, people have not responded that way.”

When St. John’s College first announced the tuition reset plan, Roosevelt listened to dozens of college and university leaders who were considering similar initiatives in their institutions. The pandemic has eased these requirements to a certain extent, but he still regularly discusses tuition reductions with other presidents and higher education leaders.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we may be at the beginning of a trend,” Dräger said. “But I am cautious to say that we will enter a period without federal stimulus, and enrollment pressure is very high, which may require schools to continue to explore complex financial models.”

Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, St. John’s University has no plans to increase tuition fees in the short term.

“If you ask me if I have to do it again, will we do it again? We definitely will,” Roosevelt said.

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