Kevin Quigley (Thailand 1976-79 & CD Thailand 2013-15 plus the former head of the NPCA) has a new problem as the president of Marlboro College, in Vermont. A recent study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers is showing that tuition discounting at private colleges and universities is straining colleges and their enrollment is still weak. Colleges are now worried about the sustainability of their tuition discounting strategies.
“We offer an incredibly generous financial aid package, and someone else increases it by $10,000 or $15,000,” Kevin is quoted in an interview with Inside Higher Education. “We talk to the students or parents and they say, ‘We love Marlboro, we love what you do there, but they just sweetened the pot by $10,000 or $15,000.’ What can you do about it?”
Marlboro is in many ways an extreme example of the pressures placed on small colleges. It enrolls only 300 — more undergraduates than PCVs Kevin had in Thailand — and 150 graduate students on average. Its undergraduate tuition discount rate is 66 percent.
The college’s discount rate has been pushed up by a recent effort to boost enrollment and academic standing by offering full scholarships to a high-achieving student in every state. The effort helped boost the college’s incoming class from 50 in the fall of 2015 to 71 in 2016. The class entering for 2017 isn’t finalized, but will likely be smaller, in the 55 to 60 student range. Quigley went onto say, “The first year with a new program, a new initiative, the community got really excited. But then you move into the second year, and it’s not the new thing. I also think other institutions are discounting to a greater extent, so all of a sudden that’s gone. So, like everybody else, we’re developing a new plan.”
What’s F.F’s plan? We wait and wonder.
If successful, it could help many, many liberal arts colleges across the country (but bigger than Marlboro) that are experiencing the same fate.