Spring is the time of year when all across America, students and families get college acceptance letters and offers of financial aid. Parents and students are taking out pencils, opening calculators apps, and trying to answer the question that is really on their minds . . .

“Can I afford to go to this college?”

Beyond tuition and living expenses and even aid packages, this is the bottom-line question that is on the minds of applicants and their families. In different ways – some overt and some less so – colleges are trying to influence potential students to come to a “yes” answer to that question. But once the influencing wears off, applicants and their families are still apt to do the math and arrive at that bottom line that tells them whether they can accept an offer of admission.

What are colleges doing to appear more affordable? Let’s look at two strategies.

Influencer Strategy #1: “No Loan” Colleges and Universities

The idea that a college is a “no loan” college is highly appealing. To learn more, you might want to read “25 Colleges with `No Student Loans,’” an article that Zach Friedman published in Forbes last December 19. The “no loan” colleges Friedman lists are Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Haverford, Northwestern, Pomona, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Swarthmore, Tufts, U Chicago, U North Carolina, U Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Washington U-St. Louis, Wellesley, Wesleyan, William, and Yale. Not a shabby list. But as Friedman explains, “no loan” means a lot of things. It generally means that students and their families are offered a grant, not a loan, as part of their financial aid packages. At many schools, including Wesleyan and Williams, “no loan” packages are offered only to families with incomes that fall beneath a certain figure.

And then there is the fact that students who have accepted “no loan” aid packages can still apply for loans at banks and other lending institutions if they have a shortfall to make up between what they can afford and what college will cost.

Those are a lot of moving parts for students and their families to consider. But again, it all comes down to “Can I afford it?”

Influencer Strategy #2: Drew University’s Solution: Reduce Tuition

Last September, Drew University chose to take a different strategy for answering the affordability question. Drew, a four-year private liberal arts college in Madison, NJ, cut tuition by 20%. That rolled the tuition back from $48,336 to $38,668 for the 2018-2019 academic year. Students can attend Drew for a sticker price that is roughly the same as the one Drew charged about a decade ago.

Of course, it’s a numbers game – and we have no way of knowing how much extensive number-crunching took place behind closed doors on the Drew campus. But data on Drew’s own website tells us that 80% of all students at Drew are already receiving some kind of financial aid. And according to U.S. News, Drew accepts 57% of all applicants. We are sure that Drew has worked out all those variables and arrived at a tuition figure that covers its operating budget while hopefully increasing the size of the applicant pool.

What will happen if Drew’s strategy doesn’t work out? After all, neither Drew nor any other college would ever want to announce a 10% tuition increase. We assume that Drew has considered that eventuality and has a plan that will allow the school to appeal to applicants and their families in both the near and short term.

Is the issue of real college cost and affordability on your mind now? And what about college value? Participate in the National Career and College Pathway Study and you will be empowered with new information to make the right career and educational decisions.

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