Utica College says its lower tuition is paying off

Sep 23, 2016

Utica College is welcoming its largest freshman class ever. The private school's officials say it's just one of the many benefits it's seeing from the "reset" of undergraduate tuition rates. It dropped from $35,000 a year to $20,000. 

"[It] definitely narrowed my choice down," said Devon Burri, one of the 685 freshmen at Utica College this fall. "I had two choices -- Le Moyne [College] and Utica [College], and I chose Utica because of the tuition decrease." 

In addition to attracting more students, Utica College Vice President for Student Affairs Jeffrey Gates said the change in prices is also making a major difference in the retention of students.

"Returning students - one in particular has told us that he’s not working his third job, the overnight shift because he doesn’t have to," Gates said. 

Before the reset, the average student debt from Utica College was $40,000. According to Gates, 76 percent of the school's students returned this year, up from the 70 percent who came back last year. 

"Families, especially first-generation families, will do anything within their power to send their child to college," Gates said. "They may empty out their bank account, depending on how well they’ve saved for their son or daughter, and they often don’t have enough for year 3 or 4. What we’re finding through the tuition reset with the reset is that more of our students are returning." 

Higher enrollment is a major reason why the school expects it will able to afford the reset. Other key components to paying for reduced tuition rates include fewer capital projects and reduced financial aid. Utica College has decreased the amount and number of scholarships it awards, which is why some students like sophomore Rutha Kyi are not supportive of the reset.

"I worked hard for my scholarship, I worked hard to be here," Kyi said. "I see a lot of my friends struggling to pay for their textbooks, pay for lunch."

But Utica College President Laura Casamento said even with fewer merit-based awards, students will see a net-cost savings.

"When students look at their financial aid package, and even though they may have less of a merit aid here [than] from another institution, I think when you look at the amount due – we’ll be a terrific value for people," Casamento said. 

Casamento said Utica College will have to be vigilant over the coming years by investing in the college and its marketing strategy because many schools that reset their tuition rates fail to sustain it.