In responses to the coronavirus pandemic, a growing number of colleges are discounting tuition, freezing tuition hikes and implementing other measures that will reduce costs for students in the coming academic year. While marketed as responses to student financial setbacks, a significant driver of these changes is concern that students will not enroll for the 2020-2021 school year.
The University of Nebraska, for example, unveiled its Nebraska Promise program in April, offering free tuition to families with incomes below $60,000, and implemented a 2-year tuition freeze. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, system officials noted that they feared an enrollment drop of 10-15% for the coming year but that applications are now up by 4.7% compared with last year. Albion College, a private college in Michigan, announced Michigan 2020 Promise, a similar free tuition program, noting that they are targeting students who might have gone out of state but who now prefer to be closer to home.
Countless other schools, public and private, are developing similar offers, anticipating that “summer melt”– where students accept admission in the spring but over the course of the summer decide not to enroll– will be at record levels this year. Notable is that almost all these offers seem to be tuition only, leaving students still responsible for room and board. This means that colleges will see at least some revenue from students who accept these offers.
Since these programs are being initiated by the schools themselves, the schools make the rules, including whether current students are eligible. As a general rule, if you have been impacted financially since filing your FAFSA– whether due to the pandemic or for other reasons– you should appeal your financial aid offer. You can do that at any point during your academic career. And if the school whose offer you accepted last month isn’t willing to adjust your award, it might be worth going back to some of your other options.