Colleges offer money-saving plans


Let's make a deal.

With the cost of a college education escalating and many institutions battling to fill classrooms, financial deals are being offered to students and their families in 1995.

Some are as simple as cutting or freezing tuition, while others center on price guarantees for the future. Sometimes an abbreviated time period for graduation provides a financial advantage. In a few cases, there's no tuition at all.

The University of Rochester, a private university in Rochester, BTC N.Y., is offering a $5,000 grant toward its $17,840 annual tuition for residents of New York state. It's designed to lure students who might otherwise go to less expensive state-run universities.

"Not only have we seen a 125 percent increase in the number of applicants from the surrounding six-county area, but we've experienced a fivefold increase in the number of students with high SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] scores," said James Scannel, vice president for enrollments at the university.

Discounts are offered at many private schools because of less support from federal and state government these days, with most of the money received now being loans, he explained.

Money-saving, three-year undergraduate degrees, rather than the traditional four-year programs, are available at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt.; Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn.; Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind.; and Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.

Tuition price-cutting is effective. Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, cut its tuition 8 percent this year and guarantees the tuition price during enrollment, while Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., sliced its MBA tuition by 22 percent.

Elsewhere, Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio, guarantees your first-year tuition price throughout enrollment. Mills College in Oakland, Calif., froze its tuition for 1994-95; Rice University in Houston is holding tuition and fees to the inflation rate; and Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, guarantees in advance how much you'll wind up paying over four years.

Prepayment of tuition with pricing guarantees is one way of helping a family get a handle on cost.

"Our cost stabilization plan lets a family prepay for four years of tuition, room and board at the freshman-year rate," explained Dennis Martin, assistant provost at Washington University in St. Louis. "You can either prepay all the amount at once or work with the university to finance over a 10-year period at a 5.75 percent rate."

There are also prepaid tuition programs offered by states for their residents in Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, among others. Some programs, however, encountered problems when returns on their portfolios derived from those payments failed to keep up with rising tuition costs. The first school to offer a prepaid program, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, eliminated it in 1988. After an unfavorable tax ruling, the state of Michigan suspended its program in 1990.

On average, students at private colleges today are paying about 80 percent of the actual tuition "sticker price" because of the discounts offered, according to David Breneman, visiting professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

"Discounting, begun 10 years ago when colleges were worried about the drop-off in the 18-year-old population and the increase in tuition, has accelerated," noted Mr. Breneman. "The reason is that, at current prices, there's an excess supply of spaces available, relative to the number of people able or willing to pay."

No tuition at all is required at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C.; Cooper Union in New York City; and Berea College in Berea, Ky. These "work colleges" underwrite education costs through endowments and gifts, while students provide services to the institution and community.

"Everyone's feeling the pinch, and schools must decide whether to offer creative options or make a restructuring decision, as Northeastern, St. Bonaventure and Syracuse universities did by closing and merging various departments," concluded Timothy McDonough, vice president for public affairs with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Here's a unique post-graduate inducement: St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., commits up to $5,000 in support if a student is still unemployed six months after graduation.

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