Total Price Transparency at Columbia College (Missouri)

Adult and online students are especially concerned about pricing. They don’t just want fair prices, they want clear ones. People on college campuses are talking through interesting ideas about student loans, and schools are experimenting with innovating price structures. Still, students are complaining.

In other words, it’s the perfect environment for an entrepreneurial approach to higher education pricing.

Scott Dalrymple, President of Columbia College, came on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to share how his university is working to improve price transparency for Columbia students with their no-fees all-in “Truition” model.

Why Price Transparency Is Important

Besides price in general, students complain about two different things. They complain about fees, especially at some institution where fees can rival tuition if you add them all together. And they complain about the cost of textbooks.

“So we asked ourselves what can we do, if anything, to affect those issues,” Scott said. “And the more we thought about it, the more we thought we might be able to solve both issues and create truly transparent pricing for students.”

That’s what led to “Truition,” Columbia College’s distinctive no-fee, all-in pricing model.

How Does Columbia’s Truition Model Work?

Columbia started by asking, “How can we be transparent?”

They realized that students often got blindsided by fees and textbook costs that added expenses beyond tuition.

Transparency, Columbia realized, might mean bundling costs into a single per-hour rate and foregoing fee revenue. No application fee. No graduation fee. No transcript fees. No proctoring fees. No anything. No technology fees. No kind of fees at all. No parking fee, even.

“We were already quite low price and low fee already,” Scott told us. “So we got a fairly low percentage of our revenue from fees – between one and two percent of  revenue is from fees.”

That budget structure made the transition more doable for the school.

And as for textbooks, Columbia decided to negotiate with publishers directly, in bulk, on behalf of its students and thus drive down the price. Instead of the individual students, the school became the single textbook purchaser. The only way to practically make this work was to move 85% of textbooks to electronic texts.

With these ideas in place, Columbia modeled their ideas and realized they could do this while staying in business. Their new tuition fee came in at $375 per credit for undergraduate learners. And that’s it. That’s all in. All of your textbooks are included. All your fees are included. Even lab kits and other things that you’ll need are included.

“When it comes to our military students,” Scott was quick to tell us, “we’re meeting the military tuition assistance cap of $250. So in other words, if you’re receiving MTA you will pay nothing out of pocket to us now.”

Dealing with Discounts in New Pricing Models

Columbia decided not to pursue Truition for its residential students on campus in Columbia, Missouri. They are not part of the Truition plan. The other 19,000 students are. But the university is doing some innovative things for its in-residence learners.

“We obviously discount through scholarships like everyone else,” Scott said. “We also have a five year tuition rate lock.”

As far as adult students go, though, the savings are already baked in to that $375 Truition rate, a much lower figure than the day students pay, so discounting and scholarships are not quite as robust there.

Advice for Other Institutions Considering New Pricing Structures

Transparency is better for students than hidden fees and textbook costs. It equips learners with the ability to pick an institution based on whether it’s the best fit for them academically, socially, convenience wise, or whatever they’re looking for.

They don’t have to ask: Am I being told the actual price?

If your institution wants to explore this concept further,  Scott told us that Columbia would be happy to share their data, including specific numbers and percentages so you can further explore Columbia’s model.

He warns us, however, that Truition is not for every institution. If pricing structures are the next big thing in higher education, however, other new models will need to evolve.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Scott Dalrymple from Columbia College (MO). To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.