Seton Hall University announces tuition cut

Seton Hall University.

Kai Ryssdal: If you get good grades and test well, Seton Hall University in northern New Jersey has a deal for you.

The school says it's going to offer top notch prospects as much as 60 percent off tuition, from $30,000 a year down to $10,000.

Eric Hoover's been covering the story for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Good to have you with us.

Eric Hoover: Thank you for having me.

Ryssdal: What did Seton Hall have to say yesterday when it made this announcement about why it was doing this?

Hoover: Well I had a brief chat with Seton Hall's vice president for enrollment management, and she told me that there were two issues that drove this decision. The first was a sensitivity to the concern about the high costs of college, whether it's Seton Hall or pretty much any other college, private or public. The second thing is a widespread confusion about costs, and that is, here's a college's sticker price, and what does that mean? What will I end up paying? Of course, as we know, the answer will depend on who you are, what your grades are, how much money your parents make. Colleges have done the world no favor by charging all kinds of different rates, and there are some good reasons why colleges charge different rates, but they don't always make sense.

Ryssdal: Yeah you know, my first thought was cynical, and it went like this: 'Man, this is pretty good marketing for Seton Hall.'

Hoover: Absolutely. Colleges are more than businesses, of course -- they're institutions that serve a public good. But they're also businesses and they must operate as such. And any business needs a way to talk about itself, a way to tell a story to the world about itself. And when you see a big story about your announcement in the New York Times, I'd say you've succeeded in generating a buzz.

Ryssdal: There's also an element of this that is wrapped up in the much more significant discussion, really, of need-based aid versus merit-based aid in colleges, right?

Hoover: Absolutely. And you know, the folks at Seton Hall say this will not weaken their commitment to awarding need-based aid. In fact, if you look at this, Seton Hall's calling this a tuition cut --

Ryssdal: For the smarter kids, right?

Hoover: Yeah, for kids who meet these three definitions of academic merit or smarts or whatever. And so they're paying less. So it'll be interesting to see over time how that shakes out.

Ryssdal: Quickly, before I let you go: Colleges are, in this regard, a little bit like airlines, right? I mean once an airline announces a price cut or a price increase, all the other airlines follow suit. And the same thing happens in higher education; you see these big tuition announcements or financial aid announcements, and then a bunch of other colleges follow through. Do you think that's going to happen here?

Hoover: Probably so. I mean, we've heard a lot recently from colleges saying they guarantee that a student will graduate in four years or the fifth year's on us. I think it's comforting in some ways to the public, I don't know what necessarily these announcements really mean, how substantial they are. But I certainly do think when you see one or two or three of something, you can suspect that 20 other institutions are going to have their own spin on this kind of announcement because, at least on the front end of this trend, people do take notice.

Ryssdal: Eric Hoover is a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Eric, thanks a lot.

Hoover: Thank you for having me.

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