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Birmingham-Southern College Resets Its Tuition Price

Next year’s published price for tuition and fees at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) will be less than half of what it is this year. The elite private college becomes perhaps the most selective institution to move away from a high tuition/high discount model with a “tuition reset,” with the purpose of eliminating sticker shock to become more accessible to more students.

The 2018-19 published price for tuition and mandatory fees will be $17,650, representing a more than 50% decrease compared to 2017-18 tuition and fees of $35,840—and resetting BSC’s tuition price back to what it was more than 15 years ago. Room and board charges for first-year residential students in 2018-19 will remain at their 2017-18 level, which is $12,300.

So the reset will bring the total published price for tuition, fees, room, and board down by more than $18,000 to $29,950, giving BSC the most affordable published price among all of the South’s prestigious private colleges and universities. See bsc.edu/LowerTuition for the details and follow the chatter at #BSClistened.

The Lawlor Group advised and assisted Birmingham-Southern in rolling out, communicating, and publicizing its tuition reset. As BSC president Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith pointed out, “We are making this strategic move from a position of strength. Our entering enrollment this fall is up almost 10%. We have upgraded our first-year residence halls, and we are making other improvements campus-wide. We have already launched or will launch eight new programs (four majors and two distinctions that came online this fall, and two dual degree programs in nursing and law that are anticipated to come online during this academic year). This is all part of listening to what students and their parents told us they need and responding to their message.”

Indeed, prospective students and their families are telling colleges all across the United States that encountering a high published price is a real barrier to accessing a high-quality education. A select few colleges in a strong position to lead have been doing something about it with tuition resets.

Last month we co-presented a session called “Successful Tuition Resets: Bold, Relevant Solutions in a Disruptive Marketplace” at the annual NACUBO meeting alongside Laura Casamento, president of Utica College (our most recently previous tuition reset client); Jeff Gates, Utica’s senior vice president for student life and enrollment management; and Eric LaMott, provost and chief operating officer at Concordia University, St. Paul (the first of our tuition reset clients, who implemented one in Fall 2013). A report of the session is at “Time to Reset Tuition?

As LaMott puts it, “There’s nothing more relevant than making higher education available to any student who desires to attend. By aligning the price more closely with the real cost of attendance, the tuition reset model opens that door of educational opportunity for students.”

In a case study of the success of Concordia’s tuition reset, we demonstrate how a tuition reset—when planned and implemented correctly—can boost market share and diversify the student body by positively influencing families’ assessment of the institution’s accessibility and its value proposition.

Kristin Vogel, Concordia’s director of undergraduate admissions, notes that even five years after the announcement of its tuition reset, Concordia continues to experience year after year of record-breaking enrollment. “Our research, visionary leadership, and responsiveness to the changing marketplace allowed us to reach students who never thought a private education was within reach,” she says. “The growth we have experienced has allowed us to reinvest in the value of a Concordia education by adding relevant academic programs and enhancing the overall student experience.”

Utica, too, has experienced success. “Since resetting our tuition price by 42 percent in 2016, we have noticed significant increases in student retention and satisfaction,” Gates reports. “And from a student recruitment perspective, we are now able to have a conversation about a Utica education that doesn’t begin with price.”

“For us, a tuition reset was a strategic decision driven by a moral imperative,” explains Casamento. “It was not a matter of attracting more students; we had a record freshman class the year prior to announcing that we were reducing our tuition price, and we were facing capacity issues in terms of both classroom and residential space. At the same time, our enrollment success could not hide the reality that, at Utica and nationwide, escalating tuition prices were increasingly creating a barrier to students enrolling and persisting in college. We wanted to do right by the families we serve and buck that trend.”

To learn about the necessary market research, feasibility analysis, and strategic implementation to conduct a successful tuition reset, senior leadership can reach out to our consulting team and John Lawlor via tlg@thelawlorgroup.com.