At a time when state legislatures are cutting budgets for state universities, which in turn is causing tuition costs to rise at many of those institutions of higher learning, the University of the Cumberlands is taking the opposite approach.
The Williamsburg-based institution announced Tuesday morning that it would be cutting tuition costs next school year by 57 percent. This means that tuition for on-campus, undergraduate students will be reduced from $23,000 to $9,875.
University President Dr. Larry L. Cockrum has named this tuition reduction initiative, “The Cumberlands Commitment.”
“We are making this change because we are committed to putting our students and families first by addressing the most significant hurdle to a college education, affordability,” Cockrum said in a release. “We want all students to know that with Cumberlands there is a clear and affordable path to a college degree.”
The initiative is a component of the University’s mission to serve students and families throughout the Appalachian Region. Currently, 82 percent of Cumberlands students come from Appalachia.
Under the new pricing model, Cumberlands will offer the lowest tuition of any private university in Kentucky and also offer tuition comparable to every public four-year institution in the state. The tuition plan will impact all on-campus undergraduate students.
The Cumberlands Commitment will:
- Reduce tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year by 57 percent from $23,000 to $9,875. This begins with the 2019 fall semester.
- Reduce the total annual cost of attending Cumberlands from $32,000 to $19,175.
- Maintain a scholarship system for academic, athletic and extracurricular awards.
“The Cumberlands Commitment we’re making today means that out of pocket costs will not increase for any of our students,” Cockrum said Tuesday. “We will continue to work each and everyday to make tuition affordable to anyone who has dreams of higher education and greater opportunity.”
Under the tuition reduction plan, the average incoming Kentucky student is expected to save nearly $3,200, totaling $12,800 over their college career.
Cockrum provided an example of one current student from Kentucky with $5,500 per year in student loan debt. Under the new plan, that same student will save $3,873 and incur $1,627 of student loan debt per year. Upon graduation, that student could see a monthly student loan payment drop from $200 to $70.
Kentucky students, like the one Cockrum described, make up 53 percent of the student body at Cumberlands. The University began the 2018 fall term with 1,366 students on campus. On average, current students will see a cost savings of $1,298.
“As someone who speaks to students each day about college finances, including student loans and managing that debt beyond college, it is exciting to think of the opportunity our students and families have with this tuition reduction plan,” said Larry Rector, Director of Financial Aid. “From this point forward, this university can send college graduates into the world with the financial peace of mind not available to many of their peers.”
While cuts are being made to tuition, Cockrum pointed out there will be no cuts in programs or services provided to students. Additionally, there will be no reduction in faculty or staff.
“This university has done all the right things in recent years to make the student experience the best that it can be,” said Dr. Jerry Jackson, Vice-President for Enrollment. “We experienced growth this fall beyond our projections in undergraduate enrollment, and we have grown in that regard for the last five years. With a transparent pricing model that reduces tuition costs, we expect even more students to find Cumberlands the perfect fit for them.”
Senior Caitlyn Howell said in a video posted on the school’s website that she thinks sophomores and juniors are going to be excited, especially if they have loans or financial difficulty.
“That’s going to tremendously impact how they look for their plan of graduating. And, for me as a senior, it’s exciting for people who I know that are coming. I work in admissions so even on tour I am excited to talk about it. The potential people have to grow and succeed with that is really exciting,” Howell said.
The tuition reduction program will not impact online or graduate program costs, which the university noted in an online FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) are already affordably priced.
The program doesn’t impact room and board, which for the fall 2019 semester is slated to cost $9,300 per year.
The university plans to continue to award athletic scholarships based on performance, and on average, the total out-of-pocket costs for student athletes will decrease under the new tuition model.
“We do expect more student-athletes to show interest in Cumberlands as an option to continue their educational and athletic career. However, we do not intend to expand team rosters beyond current levels or beyond levels that will allow us to remain competitive in our conference,” the FAQ stated.
Tuition rates at the university have remained the same for the last three years. The school plans to offset the lost revenue from the tuition reduction by growing enrollment.
“We anticipate continuing to manage positive growth in the graduate and online divisions and also see enrollment grow at the undergraduate level. These factors will enable the University to enact the tuition reduction plan and manage the pricing level for years to come,” the FAQ stated.
The school anticipates no negative impact on student services, programs, investment in facilities or faculty as a result of the tuition reduction plan, and plans to continue investing in those areas.
Officials said the school is reducing tuition because the published price is rarely what students pay upon enrollment and because of an extensive and complicated scholarship system that can leave many students and families confused about the entire financial aid program.
“We are eliminating this complicated structure and instituting a simplistic and transparent pricing model that we believe will allow more families to see the true costs of college, realize the value they will receive, and understand that a private college education at Cumberlands is affordable,” according to the FAQ. “The current pricing structure creates a perception that a Cumberlands education is not affordable for many of the families we serve throughout the Appalachian region.”
The university is able to pay for the tuition reduction after experiencing enrollment growth in all areas over the last five years, especially in online and graduate programs.
“Increased enrollment has allowed Cumberlands to invest in the Williamsburg campus facilities, reduce institutional debt, and grow traditional undergraduate enrollment. We feel this tuition model will allow us to grow undergraduate enrollment further, thus sustaining the new tuition model,” according to the FAQ.
The tuition reduction plan is built under the premise that the school will increase undergraduate enrollment by 300 students and retain at least 70 percent of the undergraduate students over the course of the first five years of the plan.
The university doesn’t anticipate the tuition reduction plan limiting revenue or causing investments in campus to cease.
In 2018, Cumberlands invested over $6 million in the Williamsburg campus through 97 projects, including renovations to classroom spaces, residence halls and athletics facilities.”