See more of the story

Concordia University in St. Paul is expecting record enrollment in the coming academic year despite the pandemic, and officials credit a tuition “reset” from several years ago for the school’s success.

The private college slashed its undergraduate tuition from $29,700 to $19,700 in fall 2013, making it one of the most affordable private institutions in Minnesota. A new analysis from Concordia shows how much the move has paid off.

Overall enrollment increased by more than 40% from 2013 to 2019 because of the reset and growth in graduate and online programs. Tuition revenue jumped 66% in that span, and the average student debt for graduates decreased by nearly $10,000, according to the school’s analysis.

Concordia’s undergraduate tuition of $23,400 for the 2020-21 academic year remains the lowest among private colleges in the state. The private college’s endowment of about $30 million is small compared with its peers, and school officials acknowledge they hand out about 25% less financial aid to students since the reset.

Incoming freshman Veda Maharaj said she chose to attend Concordia in large part because of its low sticker price.

“Going to college is the biggest financial decision I’ll make, especially for my age right now, and I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life,” said Maharaj, of Dawson, Minn., who will major in finance.

Concordia administrators say overall enrollment will hit a record high of more than 5,200 students this coming year. And the school’s incoming class of freshmen and transfer students continues to grow.

More transfer students are trickling in, drawn by the school’s lower price and plan to hold 100% of its fall undergraduate classes in person, officials say. Most Minnesota colleges plan to offer a mix of online and in-person instruction this fall.

“Students want to come back to college,” said Eric LaMott, Concordia’s provost and chief operating officer. The school is following state and federal health guidelines as it determines the layout of its classrooms and labs. Campus dormitories and dining halls will also reopen.

The tuition reset and growth of graduate and online programs have positioned the school to buck some of the financial and enrollment challenges that colleges across the country are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, LaMott said.

Student retention and six-year graduation rates have also improved since the tuition decrease, and graduates are leaving Concordia with less debt. Members of the class of 2013, who graduated before the tuition reset took effect, averaged about $42,000 in debt, according to data from the college. In 2019, the average amount of student loan debt for graduates had fallen to about $33,000.

Senior Madison Heil, a public relations major who will graduate in December, said she expects to leave Concordia with about $20,000 in debt.

“I think that I’m getting my money’s worth,” said Heil, who noted that the school offers tutoring, technology help and other amenities at no extra charge.

Concordia officials say they hope to grow the school’s enrollment to 7,000 over the next five years and maintain an out-of-pocket cost comparable to the University of Minnesota.

“Our long-term strategy is to position our self so … students that would have thought of us as unobtainable, again because of sticker price, that [might have] ended up going to the U would consider us,” LaMott said.