Ave Maria University has announced that it will reduce its annual undergraduate tutition for new students by $5,000 next year, to ease financial pressures on parents and students.
“I think that all Catholic colleges and universities should do soul-searching these days about what they’re charging,” Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, told CNA Oct. 1.
“The fact is, it’s impoverishing a lot of families to have a high debt-load. The parents are finding themselves having to mortgage their lives. Students are graduating with their future so heavily burdened by high debt that we all have to ask whether this is just and sustainable.”
Beginning in fall 2014, the Catholic university in southern rural Florida will reduce its tuition from $23,000 to $17,940, a cut of $5,060 for new students. Returning students will pay the same amount that they are paying this year, after scholarships.
The university says that its average student pays less than an attendee at nearly all private colleges and universities in Florida and at other U.S. Catholic universities.
“People in this country are demanding high quality, reasonable cost education,” Towey said. “We believe that part of our founder’s vision here at Ave Maria was a tuition price in reach of as many families as possible.”
The university will continue to provide scholarships, which means many students will pay less than the advertised tuition.
Towey said the tuition cut will not compromise classroom size and student-to-faculty ratios.
“We’re excited we’re in a financial position to be able to do this,” he noted.
Low administrative overhead, as well as an expectation of “continued strong support” from donors and growing enrollment will make the tuition decrease possible, Towey explained. He credited the young age of the university, which was founded in 2003, as a factor that made the decision easier.
The university president also cited concerns that higher education is an overpriced economic “bubble.”
“I think the schools that get out in front of this quickly will be in a better position to stay strong,” he said, suggesting that other schools could look at their overhead costs or draw on their endowments to reduce tuition.
“Some of these schools with huge endowments that are charging these incredibly high tuition and fees, you wonder what the endowment is there for to begin with,” he said.
He characterized Ave Maria University as “a classic liberal arts education at an affordable price.”
The university emphasizes Catholic social teaching through various programs, including outreach efforts to local farm worker communities.
The school’s students, Towey explained, will “become pro-life and pro-poor, and they’ll go out and put their education and their faith in the service of humanity. That’s all a Catholic university can aspire to do, I think.”
He voiced hopes that the young university will be “a little mustard seed” that will grow through its faithfulness.
Ave Maria University currently has almost 1,000 enrolled students and hopes to enroll 1,500 by fall 2016.
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