By Ryan McFadden
East Stroudsburg University promised incoming students last week that tuition will not increase as they earn a four-year degree.
The “Warrior Promise” is a fixed-rate tuition system and was approved with fervent discussion by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE board of governors on Jan. 25.
“This will help students and families worry less about the financial costs of a college education and focus more on academic success,” said East Stroudsburg University President Marcia Welsh. “This initiative provides a tremendous benefit to students and their families as it adds financial predictability and removes their concern about annual increases in tuition.”
ESU is now Pennsylvania’s first public university to offer students a fixed-rate tuition system.
Tuition rates for Pennsylvania’s other universities are either continuing to increase every year or are set by the amount of credits a student takes per year.
East Stroudsburg made the change to assure students and families that at least part of their mandatory bill can be accounted for in advance.
Thereby giving them a chance to equate a bulk of the debt into their budget, before unseen bills pile up out of thin air.
With more knowledge comes better planning, according to David Bousquet, Vice President for Enrollment Management at ESU.
“It’s a great tool, a road map to get out in four years,” said Bousquet. “Let’s focus on student success, we want to see our students persist to the point your major expenses are no longer changing.”
Tuition rates at ESU are informed by the PASSHE governors board.
The governors propose and approve a new standard tuition rate before the start of every academic year and for more than two decades this rate has increased by roughly three percent.
To make the Warrior Promise, ESU will group the incoming freshmen into a cohort and cement the four-year average of PASSHE’s standard tuition rates into one fixed-rate.
Since it is the average of a rising slope, ESU’s cohort rate is going to be higher than the PASSHE standard until the junior year of a student’s enrollment.
By senior year, the cohort tuition rate dips lower than the PASSHE standard.
Students currently enrolled have the option to “opt in” for the 2018 cohort rate but doing so as a junior or senior would likely have no benefit.
The average rate of PASSHE standards from 2018 to 2022 is definitely higher than what upperclassmen would otherwise pay.
It is unclear what significant financial impact the Warrior Promise will have on students but emotional security is the main intention of this initiative, and in that regard, it should deliver the assurance and predictability it promises.
The commitment is also an incentive for students to graduate on time, otherwise they will fall out of their cohort, into a new one, and pay roughly $1,100 dollars more in tuition for the forbidden fifth year.
The Warrior Promise, along with other student success programs, will assist alumni in graduating on time, according to President Welsh.
“Our expectation is that the Warrior Promise will help students remain focused on reducing their college expenses, knowing that graduating in four years will keep their college costs to a minimum,” said President Welsh. “We also have a group (Student Success Network) working to find ways to help students stay on track to progress toward graduating in four years or less.”
The anxious situation of ever-rising tuition rates inspired ESU to make the Warrior Promise, and it helps describe why students should be focused on keeping expenses to a bare minimum by all means.
ESU’s 2018 freshman class will have a fixed tuition payment of $8,292 per year for instate residents. These students have been promised the cost of tuition over four years will be $33,168.
That is knowledge no other Pennsylvania college can provide, and a level of transparency crucial for building trust between the attendees indebted and the institution itself.
“It’s a huge deal for parents,” said Bousquet. “A college education is a major purchase.”
College is also a major expense for the PASSHE board of governors who raise the standard tuition rate every year, paying for new faculty contracts among other costs. That means ESU still has to raise tuition rates on students of the future somehow.
ESU’s proposed tuition rate for the 2019 cohort group is $8,550 for instate residents. Which adds up to $34,200 over four years. That is $1,032 more than what 2018’s cohort will pay for the same degrees.
By the year 2026, the PASSHE standard tuition rate is projected to be $9,870 for in-state enrollees. That number puts ESU’s fixed tuition rate at $10,592. Over four years, ESU’s graduate class of 2030 will pay $42,368 just in tuition, to earn a bachelor’s degree in English, for example.
The Warrior Promise is an emotional security blanket to cover the financial anxiety these debts invoke, and a public relations initiative designed to procure positive press coverage.
“It is our hope that the Warrior Promise will attract students and their families to ESU, and just as importantly, will keep them here through graduation,” said President Welsh.
Critics of the Warrior Promise are representatives of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration. They voted against the proposal at the governor’s board meeting and said ESU’s frontloading of tuition costs will make college less accessible to low students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.
“We’ve seen nothing to suggest that is true,” said Bousquet in response to those allegations.
Other members of the board saw greater value in the university’s attempt to make college debt more predictable and less worrisome.
“It really does not generate new money for the university but it gives the families and the students the confidence that what they think is affordable will remain affordable for the four years,” said Vice Chancellor of the governor’s board Lois Johnson.
When ESU officially makes the Warrior Promise next semester a new cohort of freshmen will see a picture of debt more transparent than ever before.
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