Private Colleges Launch Tuition Discount Programs to Attract Top Students

More private universities are introducing price-matching programs, which is good news for students.
Students walk down a street at their university.

It's a tactic big-box retailers have used for years: "Find it for less at another store and we'll match the price."

While there’s always a risk price-matching may hurt the bottom line, companies would rather have your business at a discount than not have it at all. Now more private universities have taken notice of the practice.

Over the past two weeks, two private universities—Atlanta-based Oglethorpe University and Pittsburgh-based Robert Morris University—have announced new price-matching programs for high-performing students who might otherwise attend a state university.

Starting in the fall of 2019, qualifying freshman who were admitted to the main campus of either Penn State University or the University of Pittsburgh will be guaranteed a lower cost of tuition at Robert Morris, as part of the university's Public Price Match Plus program. Although the sticker price for a year at RMU is more than $12,000 higher than a year at the one of Pennsylvania's state universities (with room and board, cost of books and other expenses included), the private university contends that the net cost of tuition is actually competitive once financial aid and a program scholarship of $3,000 are applied.

At Oglethorpe, the price-match guarantee isn't just limited to Georgia state schools. The university's Flagship 50 program will match tuition at any of the nation's flagship state universities. For high-cost states such as California or Massachusetts, the price match might favor the university more than the student. But for 2019 freshmen who reside in states with a low cost of education, such as Wyoming or Florida, the program could save them thousands of dollars a year. By Oglethorpe's own estimation, the cost of tuition at the University of Wyoming is just $5,550. If you're a resident of Wyoming and you meet the minimum SAT and GPA qualifications required by the Flagship 50 program, you could take the low cost of a U of W degree across the country to Georgia.

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The rise of competitive tuitions

The rise of price-match tuition programs among private universities are seen as a way to dispel the notion that tuition at private universities are cost prohibitive as well as to boost enrollment. In a nation with soaring student loan debt, private universities want to make it clear that with financial aid, the cost of tuition isn't nearly as high as people believe.

But universities also want to maintain a healthy portion of high-performing students, and private universities aren't the only ones trying to compete. Over the past few years, public universities—such as the University of Nebraska at Kearney—have broadened their in-state tuitions to include surrounding states in order to attract more students. Others state universities—such as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville—have offered their lower in-state tuition to all domestic U.S. students.

And just last month, New York University, which is a private university, announced it would offer full tuition scholarships (a $55,018 value for the 2018 to 2019 academic year) to current and future medical students, no doubt sending rival schools to the drawing board to come up with a competitive enrollment incentive.

If the trend of broad tuition discounts continues across the nation's public and private universities, it will be good news for students struggling under the high cost of education. In the meantime, most students will continue to depend on federal student aid and private loans to fund their education.

Daniel is a former Staff Writer at ValuePenguin, covering insurance, retirement and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote about compliance and best practices for K-12 school districts at Frontline Education.