As college costs rise around the country, some small private colleges are finding a new way to attract students—by offering financial incentives. Some are offering discounts. Others are freezing tuition. But New England College in Henniker has come up with its own plan to attract a wider range of students.
Beginning this May, it’s offering a year-round academic calendar, allowing students to save money by graduating in three years instead of four.
It’s fair to say that the campus at New England College is more homey than high-end.
A few timeworn buildings cluster at the town’s junction in Henniker, situated between a river and a ski mountain.
For students like Heather DeSousa from Pennsylvania, this rustic, no-frills atmosphere is why she’s here.
"It’s a smaller school. You get to know most of the students here. You get a better experience with creating a family away from home."
But that comes at a price. Tuition at New England College is $31,000 a year. To afford it, more than 90 percent of students get some type of financial aid, and on average, pay half the sticker price.
To attract students like Desouza, the school needs to find ways to be affordable.
"Our students are choosing wisely; they’re becoming more discerning customers of higher education and are really looking at where they spend their money."
Mark Watman handles the college’s academic affairs and says the college can do more to lower costs by making better use of the summertime, when the population of around 900 typically dips to a low of one hundred.
"If we have students moving year-round through our curriculum, we can more effectively use existing residence halls. We can use our existing classroom spaces more effectively and reduce costs while increasing the opportunities for students to take classes."
Beginning this May, the college is piloting two seven-week terms — with bigger tuition breaks and free housing in the summer.
Eventually, the college will schedule both shorter and longer-term semesters year round, so students who want to, can graduate in three years.
A handful of other colleges are also developing faster tracks to graduation.
That’s according to Roland King with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
"I think you’ve seen a lot of pressure in the last five years on smaller colleges that are not at the top of the pecking order in terms of prestige or rankings, but still provide a solid education. They’re increasingly competing for the pool of students. And they’re trying to come up with any way possible to make themselves attractive to students, and affordability is a key issue with all families looking at colleges today."
A three-year program also gives college graduates a jumpstart on the job market.
Heather DeSousa is only a sophomore but says staying on campus this summer is the best use of her time.
"It is really hard to find a job just for the summer and the employer knows you’re only going to be there two and a half months before you return. If you take a class during the summer, you can stay on campus for free. It’s a lot cheaper. And there are a lot more classes available than ever before. It gives you more time to add skill sets and to make you stronger for the workforce later."
For motivated students like DeSousa, the three-year degree program offers huge savings.
The college benefits, too. By educating more students faster, it increases its bottom line.
But of course, not all students can progress at an accelerated pace. In fact, 40 percent of freshmen at New England College drop out before graduation.
But if the school can attract enough students for its faster track, this new model could get high marks for cutting tuition costs.