Despite fanfare, tuition 'resets' offer modest savings

The campus of College of St. Mary in Omaha, Neb. (The World-Herald/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Three years ago, senior staff at College of St. Mary, a Catholic women’s school in Omaha, Neb., held a brainstorming session, in which they wondered how Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, would view the school’s present operations.

Going around the room, colleagues discussed the college’s academic quality and the significance of its residence hall for single moms. They talked about how such aspects align with the charisms of serving the vulnerable, recalls Sarah Kottich, vice president for finance and administrative services for the college, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1923.

“It got to me, and I was like, ‘I can’t justify the sticker price of our tuition to Catherine McAuley. I can’t explain why a $30,000 sticker price makes sense for an institution which said that it wants to create access to serve the poor,’ “ Kottich said. “For me that was really a pivot point, where I was like, ‘We’ve got to figure this out. There’s got to be a better way to do this.’ “

With tuition climbing about 3 percent per year, St. Mary staff decided to draw a line in the sand before it would have surpassed $30,000 in 2017-18 — last year, tuition was $29,954 — and it announced a tuition “reset,” which will reduce tuition costs by a third for students this fall.

College of St. Mary will continue to price its graduate programs “at market,” according to Mercy Sr. Maryanne Stevens, the college’s president. The graduate programs will help pick up some of the lost tuition dollars. 

A version of this story appeared in the March 24-April 6, 2017 print issue.

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