Columbia College students will see big tuition drop

Students at Columbia College will see a big drop in their tuition bill next year as the private women’s college cuts by nearly $10,000 the “sticker price” paid by its students.

The college said Thursday that students will pay tuition of $19,500 a year to attend starting with the fall 2017 semester, down from the current $28,900.

College affordability is a rising national issue. The move will bring Columbia College’s price tag more in line with its average net cost — after scholarships and grants — to attend, the college said.

“We have the opportunity to significantly decrease our tuition price while still maintaining and improving the high quality and lasting value that a Columbia College degree holds,” president Beth Dinndorf said in a statement.

Adding in the cost of room and board — currently $7,900 a year — the change will bring the total cost of attending Columbia College to $27,400, less than the current cost of tuition alone now, according to Monique McDaniels, marketing and communications director.

A lower price may mean an increase in enrollment at the small college in South Carolina’s Capital City. The school’s average number of women residential students has declined in recent years to 640 from about 800. Total enrollment is 1,600 if online, evening and graduate studies — which include men — are included.

“Our intent is to make sure students can receive a private education at an affordable price,” McDaniels said. “Hopefully, enrollment will take an upturn, but we wanted to make sure students have an affordable, private liberal arts education.”

In 2013, affordability concerns led Spartanbrug’s Converse College, another private women’s college, to announce a 42 percent reduction in tuition, dropping its tuition to $16,500 from $29,124.

Converse’s decision was made for similar reasons, said vice president Trevor Pittman, but also so the school could focus more of its recruitment efforts on its educational programs.

“A lot of students were looking at the price tag and saying, ‘This is unattainable,’ ” Pittman said. “Now, instead of the first thing we talk about with potential students is ‘How affordable is it?’, we can lead the conversation with the quality of education.”

Since the announcement, Converse has seen a 21 percent increase in enrollment. This year’s incoming class is the largest in 27 years.

Pittman said Converse’s enrollment was heading up before it cut its tuition as it added new programs and facilities.