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Ohio Private Universities Use Incentives To Fill Classrooms

Ohio's 24 liberal arts colleges and universities face a challenging future.The private, non-profit, schools highlight academic reputation and low professor-student ratios. But the competition for new students is intense. Some are turning to more tangible incentives to keep classrooms filled. Late August on East Main Street in Bexley, fully loaded cars and SUV's pull into the Capital University campus. Students arrive for fall semester. Capital enrolls 2700 undergraduates, including 732 freshman. Capital has slightly increased undergraduate enrollment this year. That's not the norm - and certainly not in the Midwest. Overall college enrollment in Ohio has dropped for the last three years. Ohio University education researcher Richard Vedder, says Capital and other private universities face a stark demographic reality. "It is true that the 18 to 24 year old age group from which liberal arts colleges derive almost all of their students is a pool of people that is not growing, in fact, it's declining somewhat, and that's particularly true here in Ohio," says Vedder. Fewer college age adults, plus relatively high tuition and fees has prompted Capital and other Ohio private universities to offer financial incentives to incoming freshmen. Capital Associate Vice President, Amy Adams. "For Capital, our decision, we did a zero percent tuition increase. We've tried to keep our tuition increases very low and in this case there was no tuition increase. And that's not the first time we've done that during this past couple of years," says Adams. Tuition, room, and board at Capital cost $42,000 a year. This year, the school gives financial aid packages that average $18,000. Vedder says other schools have taken more drastic steps to attract students. "The colleges are forced to engage in some strategies that previously have never been used, including, in a few cases an actual reduction in tuition fees, something that was unheard of five years ago," says Vedder. Ashland University and Ohio Northern University both made big cuts in tuition. Jose Nogueras at Ohio Northern says the campus in Ada enrolled 800 freshman several years ago. This year's freshman class is 600 even with a $8,000 cut in tuition. Ashland University cut its $28,000 a year tuition by more than a third. Ashland's W.C. Vance says it's part of an effort to keep undergraduate enrollment at about 2,300 students. "We compete at a price level which was one of the reasons why we decided to lower our tuition by over 10-thousand dollars last year," says Vance. Vance says the school's decision was necessary to stay solvent. He says some prospective students were in danger of being priced out of college. "When we looked at what the trajectory we were on and the cost of tuition five or even seven years from now had we not reduced our tuition it would have put the price tag out of reach for almost every college student," says Vance. Cutting tuition may not be enough for small schools. Vance foresees possible mergers of private universities. Vedder agrees. He says pressure on private colleges will continue for at least a decade. . "I think there's going to be quite a number of smaller colleges closing. There might be some not so small closing too. We are probably, actually have too many educational institutions for the likely demand over the next ten or fifteen years," says Vedder. Nationally, a quarter of all private schools in the U.S. have suffered enrollment drops of 10 percent or more.