St. John’s decides to make college more affordable

September 17, 2018

In a testament to the high cost of a liberal arts education in the United States, circa 2018, it is big — and welcome — news that St. John’s College is lowering tuition to a relatively affordable $35,000 a year.

For New Mexico residents who attend St. John’s in Santa Fe, the news is even better. Tuition will be set at $25,000 through a $10,000 annual grant. St. John’s Santa Fe campus opened in 1964, with its original location in Annapolis, Md., founded in 1696. It is the third-oldest college in the United States.

St. John’s President Mark Roosevelt told reporter Robert Nott last week that the college’s price structure had become “absurd.”

“We were raising tuition 2, 3, 4 percent a year until it got to the point that it got near the average salary for an average American,” he said. “We thought most people looking at our website would figure, ‘They’re out of my reach,’ and we think that’s a bad message to be sending.”

This move helps place a Great Books education within reach of families who otherwise might only be able to dream about their children attending a school that focuses on mathematics, science, natural history, philosophy and the foundational works of Western civilization. With classes in the original Greek and no electives, St. John’s offers rigorous preparation for life. (Currently, most students are paying around $52,000 each year.)

The idea, say leaders of St. John’s, is to show that a quality education does not have be so expensive. High prices do not always equal high quality, and students should not have to mortgage their futures just to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

“Prestige pricing,” as it is called, has caused escalating tuition over the past several decades, with tuition and fees at both public and private institutions increasing at about three times the rate of inflation.

The decrease in tuition will be accompanied by a new, $300 million capital campaign, designed to raise enough money so that the college can cover any funding gaps. Called “Freeing Minds: A Campaign for St. John’s College,” the school has a goal of doubling the college’s endowment by 2023.

The capital campaign has received a boost from a $50 million matching grant made by alumni Warren and Barbara Winiarski, through their family foundation. Other alumni and boosters are pitching in, helping the college work toward a goal of reducing its deficit completely by 2021; already the college is down to a $4 million deficit from $12 million.

While yearly tuition of $35,000, or even $25,000, is still not inexpensive, the price reduction at least puts the possibility of a St. John’s education in play for more students. This is exciting news.

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