Williams College Cuts Price 15%, Cancels Sports Due to Virus


Williams College, the richest liberal arts school in the U.S., is reducing its cost by 15% for families on a one-time basis for the coming academic year and canceling sports competition and travel for the season as the coronavirus upends higher education.

The changes come “in recognition of the extraordinary circumstances and of this academic year and the uncertainty we face in the year ahead,” the Williamstown, Massachusetts, school said in a statement Monday.

Tuition, room and board for the 2020-2021 academic year will be $63,200. Family contributions for students receiving financial aid will also be reduced by 15%.

“This reduction recognizes the fact that the pandemic and associated challenges are requiring us to cancel winter study as well as fall athletics competition and many student activities, among other opportunities that we usually encourage families to expect as part of their student’s education,” school President Maud Mandel said.

Schools across the U.S. are coping with uncertainty for the year that begins in August or September as it’s largely unclear whether in-person courses will be offered given the rise in Covid-19 cases. Students at dozens of schools have already balked at the full price for last semester’s tuition with months of online classes, suing for billions of dollars in refunds.

A few dozen private colleges have cut their tuition charges over the years, but not typically the most elite ones.

“In higher education, we’re trained to believe that expensive is good,” said Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “Now, in this economic crisis, families are more price-sensitive than they have been.”

The move by Williams, which has about 2,100 students, may put pressure on other selective liberal arts schools to follow.

“For this year, it may be less expensive for the colleges to do because a lot of students who pay full price are international students, and they may not be counting on them,” Kelchen said.

Some schools are already blunting the cost.

Davidson College in North Carolina said in April that families could postpone their payments when the bills come in July. All students except seniors can defer paying until August of 2021. Seniors graduating in early 2021 can defer the first-semester bill until April 1 of next year.

The public College of William & Mary in May said it would roll back a previously adopted tuition increase for incoming in-state undergraduates and keep tuition and mandatory fees flat.

The wealthiest schools such as Williams may have the most financial flexibility. The endowment at Williams was worth $2.9 billion as of June 2019, the most recent public value.

At Williams, the activities fee has been scrapped for all students. Those who study remotely won’t have to pay room and board for the time they’re not on campus.

Students may opt to return to campus, study remotely or take a leave or gap year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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