Competition for declining pool of college students heats up

The competition between colleges and universities to capture a dwindling number of prospective students continues to heat up. After a decade of steadily declining overall enrollment, Ivory Tower administrators have hit the panic button.

High school seniors in the process of weighing their next move finally see ever higher tuition costs levelling off amid financial aid offers unheard of a couple years ago.

That includes potential enrollees to Valley City State University, which Inforum News notes plans to double down on its already competitive rates.

In competition with college funding programs across North Dakota and Minnesota, Valley City State University announced a renewed pledge to ensure tuition is affordable for any student interested in earning an undergraduate degree.

Known as the Viking Promise, the pledge seeks to alleviate the cost of tuition through financial aid and scholarships. Currently, 95% of students who are eligible for Pell Grants will have their tuition fully covered, according to a press release from the university.

“We want every student to have the chance to earn a meaningful degree,” President Alan LaFave said. “We are committed to helping students navigate college with our Viking Promise. We have one of the lowest tuition rates in the state of North Dakota and it’s exciting to see what financial aid and generous donor support can do to impact our students.”

In fact, Valley City has pledged to hold the financial line for all students next year, not just those qualifying for financial aid. Moreover, the school’s incentives extend to campus housing costs.

In efforts to keep higher education affordable, VCSU’s tuition rate for the 2024-2025 academic year will not increase for any student. The full-time tuition rate for North Dakota residents is locked in at $6,619 a year.

Students living on campus can also access the Stay-and-Save Program that locks in the housing rate they paid as a first-year student through their graduation. The Stay-and-Save Program ensures students can budget for other costs associated with pursuing a degree.

The cost-cutting measures come in the context of initiatives promoted by numerous other institutions of higher learning on both sides of the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

Similarly to VCSU, North Dakota State University  came up with its own response in November 2023 to programs popping up regionwide meant to attract students and ease their financial burdens, such as the North Star Promise in Minnesota.

The NDSU Tuition Award Program covers tuition and fees for eligible students.

At the time, Seinquis Leinen, NDSU senior director of strategic enrollment management, said an estimated 1,000 students would benefit from the $3.5 million in funding, secured through the NDSU Foundation.

Other changes underway as institutions retool go well beyond revamping tuition and fees. Dickinson State University’s restructuring has gained national notoriety for eliminating programs, increasing faculty teaching loads and class sizes .