The University of the Cumberlands, a small Baptist school near Kentucky’s southeastern border, will cut tuition by 57 percent next fall, slashing the undergraduate price tag from $23,000 a year to $9,875.
“We are committed to putting our students and families first and tackling the problem of inflating tuition costs that plague higher education at large,” said President Larry Cockrum. “We strive to offer an investment in a lifetime of return on a college education. We want all students to know that with Cumberlands there is a clear and affordable path to a college degree.”
Several public regional universities in Kentucky have frozen tuition rates, but none have rolled back prices. Located in an enrollment area beset by the coal industry’s downturn and a slowly declining high school population, the Cumberlands and other universities in Eastern Kentucky are struggling to attract students and keep them long enough to graduate.
The price cut will not affect most students at University of the Cumberlands. The vast majority of its enrollment is in graduate education, including online graduate degrees in education. The university has about 9,000 graduate students and 1,366 undergraduates. Graduate course tuition will not change. Nor will room and board charges, which will remain about $9,300 a year.
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In a list of frequently asked questions released Tuesday, officials said lowering tuition will eliminate the complicated issues of “discount rates,” which are what students actually pay to attend.
“The published tuition price is rarely what students pay upon enrollment because of an extensive and complicated scholarship system that can leave many students and families confused about the entire financial aid process,” the document states. “We are eliminating this complicated structure and instituting a simplistic and transparent pricing model that we believe will allow more families to see the true costs of college, realize the value they will receive, and understand that a private college education at Cumberlands is affordable.”
Ninety-nine percent of Cumberlands’ undergraduate students receive financial aid.
The price cut will not create program cutbacks or impact enrollment numbers, official said. All current merit and athletic scholarships will continue.
Gary Cox, executive director of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, applauded the move as innovative.
“It’s not unusual for private colleges to seek ways to better serve students from a financial perspective,” he said. “This is the best approach for the students they serve; It might not be for another school.”
University of the Cumberlands has a main campus in Williamsburg and a regional campus in Florence.
In the past, it has been in the national spotlight over its policies toward LGBTQ students. In 2006, it garnered national headlines for the expulsion of a gay student, and in 2010, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down $11 million in funding from the General Assembly to start a pharmacy school there because the Kentucky Constitution prohibits direct aid to church organizations.
In 2016, the school received a waiver from some federal Title IX requirements regarding LGBTQ students because it argued that it had to follow the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s rules on marriage, sex outside of marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity.