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Editorial: Canisius takes steps to fight 'sticker shock'

Canisius College President John J. Hurley did the math and believes he has come up with the right number to encourage more students to enroll at the area’s largest private institution.

The college is an important employer and educator for this region. Bolstering its finances will provide benefits far beyond the Main Street campus.
The college’s current tuition of $34,966 will drop next fall by 23 percent to $27,000, which is the same price it was in 2008-09. In addition, residence hall rates will decrease by $2,000.

Even though few, if any, Canisius students pay the full listed tuition, the school is facing the same problem other private institutions have: sticker shock.

Cost-conscious families discouraged by the high list price search for less-expensive options. These days, that competition comes in the form of the State University of New York. The public option became even more attractive with the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship program offering free four-year tuition as long as certain guidelines are met.

The program “sharpened” Hurley’s focus, as reported in The News. As several other private institutions have done, he drastically lowered the advertised cost. The move is intended to remove the perception that Canisius is out of financial reach for most families.

The reality is that Canisius has long used financial aid to discount its tuition, just as other colleges have. But, as Hurley said, that message was getting lost, with state legislators as well as potential students and their families.

Lowering tuition and posting a price closer to the actual cost clears the fog, and opens up the potential for a wider pool of potential students.

Like many private colleges, Canisius has seen a decline in enrollment, from 4,181 undergraduate and graduate students in 2014 to fewer than 3,500 this fall. The drop in enrollment and tuition revenue has forced some hard decisions. The college has cut spending by millions of dollars in recent years. More than 80 staff and administrative positions have been eliminated over the past decade, and 34 faculty members took buyouts this past summer.

Colleges and universities are not immune from the economic disruptions businesses have had to deal with. In response, dozens of private colleges and universities have reduced rates over the past 20 years, and eight more have announced tuition resets for next year.

When it comes to private college tuition, the price has almost never been the price, with institutions relying on any number of mechanisms to help students reduce the cost of their education. Hurley and other college leaders are hoping that a better formula is to offer the discount up front.

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