According to a report by the Boston Globe, as many as 60 to 70 percent of students going through the college search process rule out schools based solely on the tuition price. That means that with a quick google search, most students ‘swipe left’ based on sticker-shock before stepping foot on campus or submitting their application.  

For years, the average cost of college has consistently increased, leaving schools across the country with lower enrollment numbers. There are too many empty desks in the classrooms and few ways to convince prospective students that piling up thousands of dollars of debt will pay off.  So, what is going to happen to the institutions of higher education? The answer is simple: They must rebrand themselves and reshape their narrative.  

The first step in the process is for colleges and universities to understand the bottom line of what students are actually paying out of their own (or their parents’) pockets.  Institutions would then lower their tuition cost to match what students are paying anyway. For instance, after financial aid, which many students receive, students end up paying a tuition that is much lower than the college’s sticker (shock) price. For families that have not yet gone through the college search process, they may be unaware of their financial aid eligibility and that sticker price could make or break their decision.  

So why wouldn’t colleges adjust their tuition cost to this bottom-line number and heavily market the lower number to recruit more students? Why not tell people what they want to hear (lower price) instead of what they don’t want to hear (the higher sticker price)?

By rebranding their institution and reshaping their narrative, institutions would suddenly seem more affordable and family friendly. And prospective students see a school that falls within their price range.  That great feeling is a win-win for everyone.

But it’s not always what it seems. Some students have expressed concern that their financial aid package will be reduced based on lower tuitions. At the current rate of financial aid, those students will most likely pay the same or close to what they would pay without the lower tuition. It seems that, for now, there will not be much impact on the bottom-line tuition cost for the many students who receive financial aid. Still, promoting the reduced-tuition-fee narrative could be the rebrand that institutions need to reverse the trend of falling enrollment. Because to a prospective student eager to experience college life and prepare for a successful career, if it feels good, then it must be good.

Author Denise Kaigler is an adjunct professor at Lasell University, which recently announced it was reducing the cost of its tuition and room and board by approximately one-third.

Denise Kaigler is the founder and principal of MDK Brand Management, a firm specializing in brand strategy, business consultancy and career coaching. Prior to launching her business in 2015, Denise held senior, executive and C-suite roles at several global brands. Denise is the author of Forty Dollars and a Brand: How to Overcome Challenges, Defy the Odds and Live Your Awesomeness, available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She is also the creator and executive producer of Brand Rewind ™, a multi-media experience that explores the actions and behaviors of personal and business brands and empowers others to learn from them. Sign up for the Brand Rewind ™ newsletter and subscribe to the Brand Rewind LIVE YouTube channel by clicking here.