- Burlington, Vermont-based Champlain College announced that its online division — Champlain College Online — will cut undergraduate tuition for adult students by half. In an interview with Education Dive, president of the institution, Don Laackman, said he hopes the move will help the institution raise its student count from 3,500 to 5,000 by 2020.
- The decision to cut tuition, Laackman said, came after Champlain conducted a broad survey of adults asking what their most significant barrier to continuing education is. The results showed that the high cost of tuition — even more than family commitment or time — is the most significant barrier.
- Even though tuition is being cut dramatically, Laackman said the institution has focused on making its online program high quality and sustainable by "developing a financial model to show what it needs to scale our internal operations to match the growth and needs of students," while offering relatively small classes, below 25 students, in a classroom, and high-quality faculty members and advisors to help students complete degrees.
Tuition discounting is not a new trend in higher education, with many institutions looking toward the strategy as fewer students enroll in college due to prohibitive costs. Frank Wu, distinguished professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, wrote in a guest post for Inside Higher Ed that tuition discounting can come with significant consequences alongside or instead of the intended benefits.
Specifically, Wu said tuition discounts do not act the same way as financial aid scholarships, but rather are unfunded and affect revenue distribution. And, sometimes this can impact disadvantaged students because smaller revenue means colleges and universities focus on admitting students who have a better chance of completing degrees. Most importantly, Wu warned that institutions shouldn't discount tuition so much that they end up "imperiling their continued existence."
Though, such worries may not transfer from learners at the brick-and-mortar institution to online students. When asked about these factors, Laackman said he's confident "that these new low-tuition rates are going to enable students to become competitive in a global economy and help them finish more quickly and with less debt."
He said Champlain is working from a model developed through one of its other online programs, launched in 2013, geared toward employers that want to help their employees gain certifications and skills. Program directors "are involved in curriculum design and corporate outreach to understand the needs of industry, and then recruiting online faculty and ensuring the quality of faculty. That model helps us cost-effectively deliver online education to our students," he said, adding that in terms of offsetting tuition discounting costs, Champlain hopes the move will help it "double our standard market."
Laackman issues a caveat to this approach, however, explaining that other online institutions ought to consider a these factors before trying to scale this type of approach:
"The most important values to us are qualities of the online experience and completion for our students," he said. "Entering this program doesn't make sense if the student can’t complete. I would urge others to look hard at their models, be sure they are investing enough in advising services and high quality faculty that can enable the college to deliver high quality programs."