Edgewood College hopes new tuition grant will compete with UW schools for students

October 9, 2018

Edgewood College will offer a new grant next year — the first of its kind among Wisconsin’s private institutions — that will cap certain incoming students’ annual tuition payment at $11,400, in the hopes of challenging the notion that private colleges are far pricier than state schools.

Officials have posted requirements for the grant online, allowing students to learn if they qualify for the tuition rate before they even submit their application.

At most private schools, the sticker price posted on school websites and printed in pamphlets is far more than what students may receive in the form of grants and scholarships from the school. But students typically don’t learn the full amount they are on the hook for until after submitting their application and receiving an acceptance letter.

“We know many families get stuck on that sticker price,” Edgewood College president Scott Flanagan said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal.

Annual undergraduate tuition at Edgewood College in 2018-19 is $29,500, though the average incoming freshman received $16,000 in grants and scholarships from the school that don’t need to be paid back.

That means the tuition rate posted on the school’s website is about double what the average student pays, a point Edgewood College officials say is sometimes lost on students amid their college search.

Incoming students who qualify for the InTuition grant will be charged no more than $11,400 next fall and receive the same level of aid in the next three years. Depending on an applicant’s academic qualifications or level of financial need, tuition could be even less that that, officials said.

“Right out of the gate, they can know what that number will be,” said Christine Benedict, Edgewood College’s vice president for enrollment management.

Incoming freshman with a least a 3.5 unweighted high school GPA and 24 on their ACT qualify. Students with a lower ACT score and higher GPA or vice versa may also qualify. A calculator on the college’s website allows prospective students to toggle between different test scores and GPAs to determine if they meet the academic standards.

Officials hope providing prospective students upfront with a tuition rate comparable to Wisconsin’s public schools, where tuition has been frozen since 2013, will draw some of those students to their campus instead.

“Unless you’re an insider, a lot of people don’t quite understand a private college can be affordable,” said Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, of which Edgewood College is a member.

High school students submitting applications to Wisconsin’s private schools most often also apply to schools within the UW System, Wegenke said.

Edgewood College’s $11,400 InTuition rate is slightly above UW-Madison’s, where annual tuition for in-state undergraduates is $10,555 this year, and about $2,000 to $4,000 more than what smaller UW schools charge.

The $11,400 tuition rate is not a four-year guarantee. Officials said that tuition increases in subsequent years will be passed along to students.

For example, next year’s tuition price posted on the college’s website includes an asterisk explaining that students should expect a nominal tuition increase of 3 to 5 percent, about a $1,000 to $1,500 increase, in 2020-21.

Edgewood College’s tuition rate has increased by about $1,000 each year since 2014, according to school data. And the number of full-time undergraduate students has declined by about 20 percent since 2013.

InTuition is available to all prospective students, not just Wisconsin residents. Qualifying students are guaranteed admission into the school and academic program of their choice, according to officials.

Wegenke said he did not know of any other private schools in the state offering this type of grant.

College officials say they are curious to see if the grant changes the academic quality of its class. About 35 percent of current students would have qualified for the grant had it been offered at the time they applied.

Edgewood College has offered a comparable amount of financial aid to students performing at InTuition’s academic level in past years, officials said, so offering the grant will not cause a significant change to the school’s financial aid model.

If the grant prompts additional students to enroll, officials say the grant may have no net cost to the college, so they declined to provide a total program cost.

“We were comfortable that the cost involved, while it’s not insignificant, it is something worth doing because we think that this will increase both real and perceived access by students and families,” Flanagan said. “And we thought that trade-off was worth it.”

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