Tuition Freezes, Tuition Cuts and Level Tuition

Glossary of Terms

Tuition Freeze: Keeps tuition unchanged for a number of years. Usually room and board charges continue to increase.

Level Tuition: Freezes tuition for four or more years for each class, but increases tuition for each successive incoming class. Also known as a guaranteed tuition rate or tuition lock.

Tuition Cut: Cuts tuition rates by 20% to 50%. Usually a one-time event. Financial aid is also cut at the same time, since financial need will be reduced for all students.

This page lists colleges that have cut tuition rates instead of increasing them. It also lists colleges that have implemented temporary tuition freezes and colleges that have implemented level tuition rates. (A level tuition rate freezes the tuition rate for each class, but increases it for each successive incoming class. Thus each student has the same tuition rate for all four years.)

Tuition Cuts

A handful of schools have cut their tuition rates instead of increasing them. The resulting publicity generates increases in enrollment which can compensate for the lost tuition revenue. In addition, such cuts are usually accompanied by cuts in financial aid. (Typically, colleges recycle approximately 25% of tuition revenue in the form of financial aid.) The cuts are one-time events, with the school returning to annual tuition increases in subsequent years.

For example, Bethany College of West Virginia cut its tuition in 2002-2003 by 42% from $20,650 to $12,000, thereby attracting 60% more freshmen and increasing total campus enrollment by 13% to 875 students. Financial aid was also cut by 43%.

For a school to pursue such a strategy, the tuition cut needs to be phased in gradually (i.e., it applies to new students only, with the old tuition rates being phased out as existing students graduate). The school must have significant excess capacity, be not very well known, and draw its student population primarily from a limited geographic region surrounding the school.

The schools which have instituted such cuts include:

School Year of Cut Amount of Cut
Penn Foster College 2009-2010 28%
Blackburn College 2008-2009 15%
South Dakota Colleges
Just out-of-state tuition
2006-2007 50%
North Park University (IL) 2005-2006 30%
Eureka College (IL) 2004-2005 30%
Abilene Christian University (TX)
Just the Department of Education's Educational Administration Master's Program
2003-2004 50%
Albertson College (ID) 2003-2004 30%
Westminster College (MO) 2003-2004 20%
Heidelberg College (OH) 2002-2003 28%
Bethany College (WV) 2002-2003 42%
University of Virginia (VA) 1999-2000 20%
College of William & Mary (VA) 1999-2000 20%
Marlboro College (VT) 1999-2000 8%
Wells College (NY) 1999-2000 30%
Bluefield College (VA) 1998-1999 24%
Pine Manor College (MA) 1998-1999 34%
Sheldon Jackson College (AK) 1998-1999 42%
Thiel College (PA) 1998-1999 27%
Muskingum College (OH) 1996-1997 29%
North Carolina Wesleyan College (NC) 1996-1997 23%
Waldorf College (IA) 1987-1988 30%

Tuition Freezes

Other schools have instituted tuition freezes. In addition to colleges who do not increase their tuition rates for one or more years, there are also colleges who lock in a student's tuition rates for all four years but do increase rates for each successive incoming class. In general, tuition freezes are more common among community colleges and public colleges than among private four year colleges. Usually a tuition freeze requires continuous full-time enrollment. If the student takes a leave of absence or drops below full-time, their tuition relocks at the rate then in effect.

Examples of temporary tuition freezes include (sorted alphabetically):

  • AIB College of Business (Des Moines) for 2008-2009.
  • Albany Law School of Union University for 2009-2010.
  • Arkansas State University for 2009-2010.
  • Becker College (MA) for 2009-2010.
  • Benedictine University (Lisle, IL) for 2009-2010 (and for 2010-2011 for freshmen entering 2009-2010).
  • Bennington College in 1996.
  • British Columbia, Canada. Tuition rates at public colleges in British Columbia, Canada, were frozen by the government from 1995 through 2002.
  • Capitol College (Laurel, Maryland) for 2008-2009.
  • Central Oregon Community College for 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.
  • Cincinnati Christian University for graduate students for 2009-2010.
  • Cincinnati State Technical and Community College for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.
  • College of New Rochelle in New York in 1996.
  • Colleges in Nova Scotia, Canada, for 2008-2009 through 2010-2011 (three years).
  • Columbus State Community College for 2010-2011.
  • Community colleges in Essex, Hudson, Union and Warren counties in New Jersey for 2004-05.
  • Flathead Valley Community College for in-district students for 2009-2010.
  • Freed-Hardeman University for 2007-2008.
  • Guilford College in North Carolina in 1996.
  • Hiram College for 2006-2007, 2010-2011.
  • Houghton College for 1998.
  • Ivy Tech State College in Indianapolis froze tuition for 2001-2002.
  • Johnson C. Smith University for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. (Last time was in 1974-1975.)
  • Kansas Board of Regents for Kansas residents for 2009-2010.
  • Kansas Wesleyan University for 1998.
  • Langston University for 2009-2010.
  • Liberty University Online for 2009-2010.
  • Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, TN) for 2009-2010.
  • Marlboro College in Vermont from 1998 to 2002.
  • Merrimack College (North Andover, MA) for 2009-2010.
  • Mils College in California from 1993 through 1995.
  • Missouri 2-year and 4-year Public Colleges for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.
  • New Brunswick, Canada, for 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. (New Brunswick community colleges since 2006-2007.)
  • New Hampshire Community Colleges for 2008-2009. (Seven community colleges, with campuses in Concord, Laconia, Littleton, Manchester, Nashua, Claremont, Berlin, Keene, Woodsville, Stratham, Conway and Portsmouth.)
  • Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) for 2009-2010.
  • Oakland City University for 2009-2010.
  • Ocean County College for 2009-2010.
  • Ohio State University for state residents for 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.
  • Oklahoma City Community College for 2009-2010.
  • Oklahoma State University for 2009-2010.
  • Ontario, Canada government for all Ontario colleges for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.
  • Oregon public colleges from 1997 to 1999.
  • Princeton University for 2007-2008.
  • Rocky Mountain College (Calgary, Canada) for 2006-2007.
  • Seminole State College for 2009-2010.
  • Siena Heights University (Lansing, MI) for 2008-2009.
  • State University of New York and the City University of New York, did not increase tuition rates from 1995 through 2002.
  • Texas Tech University for 2008-2009.
  • Thomas Aquinas College for 2010-2011.
  • Three Rivers Community College for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.
  • University of Akron (OH) for 2009-2010.
  • University of Central Oklahoma for 2009-2010.
  • University of Maryland system for 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. (Just tuition for in-state undergraduate students. Tuition for out-of-state and graduate students will still increase, as will fees for all students.)
  • University of North Carolina for 2003-2004.
  • University of North Texas at Dallas for 2008-2009.
  • University of Oklahoma for 2009-2010.
  • University of Toledo for 2009-2010.
  • University of Tulsa from 1996 through 1998.
  • University of Wisconsin, for students with family income under $60,000, for 2009-2010. Also, all two-year colleges in the University of Wisconsin system for 2009-2010.
  • Virginia Wesleyan College for 1998.
  • West Virginia Wesleyan College for 2006-2007 and 2009-2010.
  • Wheeling Jesuit University for 2009-2010.
  • William Jessup University for 2010-2011.
  • Williams College in Massachusetts froze tuition for 2000-2001.
  • Wright State University (Ohio) for 2007-08 and 2008-09.
  • York University (Canada) for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 for some graduate programs.

Level Tuition Rates

Examples of level tuition rates (also known as tuition locks, tuition guarantees, guaranteed tuition rates, guaranteed tuition plans, stable tuition, block tuition, and fixed tuition rates) include:

  • Holy Cross College at Notre Dame, Indiana. (Started 2010-2011.) Tuition remains fixed for students continuously enrolled in a four-year degree program until they graduate.
  • University of Texas at Dallas. (Started 2007-2008.) Tuition rates fixed for four years for new students. The tuition guarantee also applies to students enrolling in participating two-year schools.
  • Georgia public research colleges. (Started 2006-2007.) Tuition rates fixed for four years for new students.
  • Central Michigan University. (2005-06 through 2007-08.) Tuition, fees, room and board are locked in for up to five years for new and transfer undergraduate students.
  • Oklahoma City University for 2006-2007. Students may elect to pay a fixed tuition rate for all four years. The amount paid during the freshman year is higher than normal tuition rates, but then is not subject to annual inflationary adjustments.
  • Merrimack College (MA) for 2006-2007.
  • Henry Ford Community College. Rebates tuition increases for students who graduate within four years.
  • Berkeley College in New York and New Jersey. Tuition is frozen at the rate in effect during their initial enrollment, so long as they maintain continuous full-time student status. If the student falls below full-time and later return to full-time status, the tuition rate relocks at the rate then in effect. (Started 1975-1976.)
  • Pace University in New York. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to five years. (Started 2003-2004.)
  • Mesa State College for students who maintain a 3.2 GPA by the end of their freshman year. (Started 1993-1994.)
  • Illinois public colleges. Locks in tuition rates for students for four or five years, depending on major. (Takes effect starting in 2004-2005.) Western Illinois University has had an undergraduate tuition guarantee in effect since 1999-2000 and a graduate tuition guarantee since 2004-2005. Other states, including Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, are considering similar initiatives.
  • Hiram College in Ohio. Locks in freshman tuition rate for four years. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • George Washington University. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to five years, and guarantees that institutional aid will not decrease. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Lake Erie College. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to five years. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Flat-rate pricing for tuition for four years. (Started 1997-1998.)
  • Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. Locks in freshman tuition rate for five years.
  • Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. Locks in the undergraduate and graduate tuition rate for as long as the student is making satisfactory progress toward a degree.
  • Capitol College (Laurel, Maryland) since 2000.
  • Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts. Locks in freshman tuition rate starting with the class of 2005.
  • Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Locks in freshman tuition rate and room and board for up to eight semesters. (Started 2000-2001.)
  • University of Charleston in Charleston, West Virginia. Locks in freshman tuition rate for four years.
  • Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio. Locks in freshman tuition rate for four years.
  • Alaska Pacific University. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to five years. (Started 2001-2002.)
  • Cleary College. Locks in tuition for undergraduate and graduate students. (Started 2001-2002.)
  • Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport, Louisiana. Flat fee tuition rate since 2001-2002.
  • Florida Christian College in Kissimmee, Florida. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to five years. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • University of Minnesota. The Guaranteed Tuition Plan allows incoming freshmen to pay a fixed tuition rate for up to five years. The fixed rate is initially higher than regular tuition rates. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Vanderbilt University. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to four years. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Lackawanna College. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Niagara University. The Level Tuition Plan allows incoming freshmen to pay a fixed tuition rate for up to four years. The fixed rate is initially higher than regular tuition rates. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • The Franciscan University, Iowa. Locks in freshman tuition rate for up to four years. (Started 2004-2005.)
  • Florida public colleges. The Florida Board of Governors is requiring all schools to provide a fixed four-year tuition rate for up to 30 credits per year. (Started 2005-2006.)

In addition, there are a variety of more unusual tuition freezes:

  • Students applying early decision at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, are guaranteed the same amount of grant aid for all four years.
  • Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri allows parents to lock in up to four years of tuition and room and board at the freshman year rate by financing it over a ten year term.
  • Rice University guarantees that tuition for continuing students will not exceed the rate of inflation.

Level tuition rates are increasingly popular because they provide predictability, making it easier for families to plan for college costs.

Many level tuition rates were implemented after the end of the most recent recession. It is unclear whether the level tuition rates at public colleges could survive a recession. Whenever the state legislature cuts support for higher education -- a common occurrence during recessions -- public colleges are forced to increase tuition to compensate. Although public colleges could increase the tuition rates of the next incoming classes, this limits the colleges ability to respond to significant funding shortfalls, leading to bigger jumps in tuition rates. Some colleges that offer level tuition rates build a buffer into the level tuition rates, providing a contingency fund that allows them to weather volatility in their funding sources without needing to implement a spike in successive tuition rates. (To the extent that level tuition rates represent a contractual obligation, continuing students do not have to fear that the college will reneg on their guaranteed tuition rates during times of economic hardship.)

Students who think they may transfer from a college that provides a guaranteed tuition rate should consider their choice of college carefully, as a guaranteed tuition rate in effect charges them more during the first two years and less during the last two years than at a similar quality college that doesn't offer guaranteed tuition rates.

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