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Reducing tuition may offset enrollment losses

In periods of economic uncertainty, it is tempting for community colleges to raise tuition to offset increases in costs. Even modest increases, however, can reduce registration when the institution needs stable to increasing enrollment. While it may seem counter-intuitive, reducing tuition may boost community college enrollment.

Using data from Texas community colleges, a Brigham Young University researcher discovered that lowering community college tuition does just that. It induces students who would not otherwise have attended any post-secondary institution to enroll in community college classes.

Lowering tuition does not necessarily require the institution to lose revenue. For example, the author examined the impact of annexation of previously unserved school districts on community college tuition. Annexation tended to lower the cost of attendance overall because it substantially increased property tax revenues. Using increased tax collections, five large Texas districts lowered their tuition rates. The decreased direct cost to students boosted enrollment by as much as 20% in the years immediately following district expansion.

There is some concern that increasing enrollment at the community college level will divert students who would otherwise have enrolled in a four-year university. The researcher found that this was not true. The increase in enrollment (based on reduced tuition rate) simply enabled students who would not have otherwise enrolled anywhere to attend a two-year institution.

Further, a significant percentage of these students went on to earn bachelor’s degrees. In other words, making community college more accessible by lowering tuition also benefited four-year institutions.

Reducing tuition may also increase revenues

“Overall, lowering community college costs provides a pathway for more students to attend college. It also has positive, longer term benefits of bachelor’s degree receipt. The benefits of com-munity college attendance may make lowering community college tuition an attractive option forpolicymakers seeking to increase educational attainment.”

-Jeffrey T. Denning, College on the Cheap: Consequences of Community College Tuition Reductions

Once again, the data suggest that WCC can increase both its enrollment and its revenues, while decreasing the cost of attendance. The paper focused on the economic impact of annexation – which is a possibility for WCC in both Livingston and Lenawee counties. However, it is also possible to decrease the cost of attendance for students by tightly managing WCC’s administrative costs.

To date, the WCC Trustees have seriously explored neither option. It makes little sense to divert resources to nonsense revenue generation schemes that are unrelated to academics. Clearly, the key to WCC’s success is increasing enrollment.

Those actions that increase enrollment, make WCC more accessible, and return more value to the students will enable WCC to not only survive but thrive, even in difficult economic conditions. Following the poor administrative strategies of other institutions – like Wright State University and Ohio University – will lead WCC to the same ruinous outcomes.

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom, via Flickr