Photo courtesy SPU: Seattle Pacific University will lower tuition by 25 percent beginning in autumn 2021, officials announced recently. The research into the decision began a couple of years ago.
Photo courtesy SPU: Seattle Pacific University will lower tuition by 25 percent beginning in autumn 2021, officials announced recently. The research into the decision began a couple of years ago.

Beginning next fall, Seattle Pacific University will decrease its tuition for undergraduates by 25 percent.

In addition to the tuition decrease, SPU is restructuring its scholarships and capping future tuition rate increases. The move is an effort to attract more students to SPU.

Nathan Mouttet, SPU vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said the university research and planning behind the move has been going on for approximately two years.

“This is not a trivial decision,” he said.

With the tuition rate reduction, the university will also cap future undergraduate tuition rate increases to no more than 4 percent annually for students enrolling in autumn 2021, according to an SPU press release. Typically SPU has averaged a 5 percent increase. The university will also offer “substantive scholarships that address financial need, faith and academic merit.”

“We are proud to be able to offer this now, particularly in a time in our nation when many families are facing increased financial pressures and economic uncertainty,” SPU President Dan Martin said in the press release. “Our Board of Trustees encouraged us to give students and their families greater opportunities to enroll at SPU and meet their educational dreams.”

Currently, the tuition for undergraduate students is $46,728 per year. For students applying for Autumn Quarter 2021, tuition will be $35,100, which is a 25 percent decrease in the full tuition price and before financial aid. According to the press release, 95 percent of SPU students receive some form of financial aid.

Jordan Grant, SPU associate vice president for enrollment operations and student financial services, said private universities typically set prices higher and use some of those tuition funds to provide scholarships and grants for other students.  That, however, has impacted the students and SPU.

While SPU’s tuition prices are comparable to other private universities, students are actually overlooking SPU in favor of bigger public universities when deciding where to attend college.

Mouttet said that has driven quite a bit of university officials’ thinking in terms of coming up with a more sustainable tuition model.

“Our real competition is with the flagship state university here and in Oregon and the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Hawaii,” Grant added.

Students, he said, want the size, the connections and the faith base of SPU, but not the price tag.

Losing potential students to UW and UO especially was becoming untenable to SPU, Mouttet said.

“We know that rising costs are a consistent barrier to students accessing the college of their choice,” Mouttet said in the press release. “And we also know that future students see tuition as a barrier to consideration of private colleges in general, and Christian colleges specifically, and often don’t make it through the financial aid process.”

The drop in cost will bring SPU's tuition back to 2014 prices.

Current students can also take advantage of the tuition cost reset for their remaining years at SPU. All students will receive one free additional course, up to five credits, after graduation, according to the press release.

Grant said the university is able to do this without having to make cuts elsewhere.

Students who depend on financial aid, scholarships or grants will still have a number of options available to them to help offset tuition costs even after the new rates take effect, Grant said.

The tuition decrease only impacts tuition prices Grant said. Room, board and fees will still see some increases. Grant said historically, however, the university is “pretty competitive, if not lower,” than other universities in those areas.

Mouttet said, while the university began considering a tuition decrease long before COVID-19 became an everyday reality, the coronavirus pandemic reaffirmed SPU's decision to unroll a new tuition plan as soon as possible.

"The question of COVID has, frankly, amplified everything," Mouttet said.

While the university developed a campus-wide reopening plan over the spring and summer, SPU's response to students' needs in the COVID crisis has been personalized. Grant said, when it became apparent students would have to drop out of school without some financial assistance, the university responded where it could. More than 600 students benefited from $1.4 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds in the spring. SPU also spent about $20,000 to help other students who did not qualify for CARES Act funding, Grant said.