Lav Patel was in class at Robert Morris University Illinois one evening earlier this month when his professor said he had an announcement. Patel said he acted like it was bad news.
“I thought maybe tuition got raised,” he said.
It turned out to be the complete opposite.
Starting next month, the small, private school with seven campuses across Illinois, is reducing tuition for all graduate students by nearly a third.
The most popular master’s, in business administration, will now cost around $28,000, down from $42,000.
“Our entire class jumped up and joy and started screaming in excitement,” Patel said. “When you hear that number, all the opportunities pop up in your head.”
Robert Morris administration says the decision to reduce graduate school tuition was driven by student feedback that graduate programs were too expensive. Plus, prospective students wouldn’t even consider the school because they thought it cost too much. Graduate school enrollment at Robert Morris has declined by a third since 2013, according to federal data.
University President Mablene Krueger said she hopes a lower tuition will reduce sticker shock, increase affordability, and maybe draw more applicants.
“We felt, at the graduate level, we were not being as transparent as we could be about, ‘this is what it’s going to cost you to earn your graduate degree,” she said. Robert Morris offers a little more than a dozen graduate degrees, serving 300 students in 2017.
According to a study by Longmire Associates, 60 percent of students and their parents don’t know private colleges discount tuition rates.
Advertising a lower price up front could mean more applicants, especially lower-income students who might dismiss schools with high price tags. Many students don’t pay the sticker price because they have loans and scholarships, but most schools don’t tell students what they’ll actually have to pay until after they’re accepted.
“Many people don't want to put themselves out there, decide they like a college a lot, get accepted, and then decide they can’t afford it,” said Lucie Lapovsky, a higher education economist and former president of Mercy College in New York.
Offering a more realistic tuition could make schools more competitive, especially those that aren’t highly sought after.
“It’s a marketing tactic, and I think it’s being much more transparent and honest,” she said
Lapovsky said reducing tuition is a growing trend across the country — especially at the undergraduate level. But lowering tuition for graduate schools is more unusual. She expects the trend will continue across the country as competition for students increases at a time when the number of college-age students is on the decline.