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Goucher College is not raising tuition next year

Goucher President José Antonio Bowen. (File)

Goucher President José Antonio Bowen. (File)

Amid mounting concerns about student debt, Goucher College — for the first time in its history — is not raising tuition for the upcoming school year.

“We couldn’t do nothing, so this is the first step and it’s partly an experiment because we’re hoping that this will resonate with our community,” said Goucher President José Antonio Bowen.

The decision to freeze tuition is part of a larger effort by the college to make it more accessible to its poorest students.

“We’ve been talking a lot about affordability,” said Bowen.

The average tuition and fee increase for a private, liberal arts college in the 2015-16 school year was 3.47 percent. Last year, Goucher had the smallest tuition increase in its history, with a 2.2 percent increase, or $1,200 for the 2016-17 school year.

The cost for a student to attend Goucher, including tuition, fees, room and board, is now $55,176. With associated living expenses such as books and other supplies, the cost ends up being more than $59,000. Goucher offers financial aid to 93 percent of its students through more than $44 million in grants, scholarships, loans, and federal work-study, the school said.

“For students and staff here, the budget model has been raise tuition so people can get a raise,” said Bowen.

That said, the school was seeing the negative impact rising tuition was having on its students, said Bowen.

“We see financial stress in our poorest students…we have to do something about it.”

While the college still plans to give raises and maintain student services, any cost savings will have to come from somewhere.

“We’re going to have to find efficiencies,” said Bowen, adding that much of those cuts will likely come from other sources such as rental revenue and cutting costs on the expense side through technology.

The tuition freeze also sheds light on the problematic revenue model for colleges and universities across the country. As nonprofits, colleges have missions, but they also are competing with other institutions, said Bowen.

“We have to balance mission and market,” he said.

Right now, the majority of the university’s revenue stream comes from returning students, who are very likely to give in to yearly tuition increases.

“We have a captive audience that will pay the increase,” said Bowen, adding that such a pricing model is “done, broken, gone.”

Aside from addressing tuition, Goucher has also tried to make its application process accessible to prospective students of all socioeconomic backgrounds by adding a video application option. Students can submit a two-minute video responding to an assigned prompt and two high school samples.

“We’re trying to level the playing field,” said Bowen. “All of these are examples of Goucher trying to become the model for greater accessibility for what we do.”