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What Happened When a Small Liberal Arts College Stopped Raising Tuition (St. John's College)

Education Dive

June 19, 2019


In November 2017, leaders from St. John's College met to discuss the three-century-old institution's annual tuition increase. They expected the meeting would be straightforward. For years, the small liberal arts school — with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico — raised its sticker price by around 3%.

Yet St. John's leaders knew something had to change. In just two decades, the college's tuition had ballooned from $19,500 to $51,200 — growing at a rate three times that of inflation.

So Panayiotis Kanelos, president of the Annapolis campus, crunched the numbers to predict how much annual tuition would be in 10 years if St. John's stayed on the same course. That figure? A whopping $70,000.

"Where does it stop?" Kanelos asked. "We just planted a flag and said, for us, it stops here." That meant cutting the posted price by 33%, dropping annual tuition to around $35,000. It was a figure the college had not seen in more than a decade.

St. John's joins a growing number of private institutions to slash prices in a bid to attract students put off by rising college costs. Ten colleges reset their tuition in 2018, the year St. John's announced its cut, and some 50 colleges reduced prices in the decade prior, according to Forbes.