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Private College Tuition Discounting Continued Upward Trend During COVID-19 Pandemic


(Washington, DC) – Private colleges and universities significantly discounted listed tuition and fee prices for most students in 2020-21—continuing a long upward march in discount rates that only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the 2020 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study, 361 private, nonprofit colleges and universities reported an estimated 53.9 percent average institutional tuition discount rate for first-time, full-time, first-year students in 2020-21 and 48.1 percent for all undergraduates—both record highs. By providing grants, fellowships, and scholarships, these institutions forgo about half the revenue they otherwise would collect if they charged all students the tuition and fee sticker price.


In another long-term trend, most students received grant aid in 2020-21 and were awarded larger grants than in previous years—covering an average of 60.3 percent of listed tuition and fees for first-time undergraduates and 54.3 percent for all undergraduates. Nearly 90 percent of first-year students and approximately 83 percent of all undergraduates received some form of institutional grant aid.

Average net tuition and fee revenue reported in this study has declined from 2016 levels and, year-over-year, fell the most it has in a decade. Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, net tuition and fee revenue decreased by 6.2 percent per first-time undergraduate and by 2.5 percent per undergraduate, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Enrollment among first-year students as well as all undergraduates also was down (5 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively)—a trend that has spanned the past three years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on higher education institutions and students alike and is undoubtedly a contributing factor in the continuation of trends the NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study finds annually—but this year’s study does not measure the exact extent to which the pandemic influenced these statistics. To provide some context, the study for the first time surveyed business officers on their perceptions of the pandemic’s impact on their institutions. About 80 percent of respondents anticipate a significant change in net tuition revenue, room and board revenue, and enrollments as a result of the pandemic.

Business officers reported their institutions already are shifting enrollment and financial aid strategies to head off these challenges. Nearly two-thirds reported employing new recruitment methods, about 62 percent reported using new retention strategies, more than half went test-optional, and about half offered new financial aid strategies.

“Tuition discounting remains an important tool for private, nonprofit institutions to enroll and retain students while making a college education more affordable and attainable for them,” said Ken Redd, senior director of research and policy analysis at NACUBO. “This year’s Tuition Discounting Study signals that sustained efforts in financial aid and admissions strategies may be needed to increase access and success as we continue to adjust to the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Founded in 1962, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) is a nonprofit professional organization representing chief administrative and financial officers at more than 1,700 colleges and universities across the country. NACUBO’s mission is to advance the economic vitality, business practices, and support of higher education institutions in pursuit of their missions. For more information, visit

About the NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study
Since 1994, the annual NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study has measured tuition discount rates and other indicators of institutional grant aid awards provided by four-year private, nonprofit (independent) colleges and universities to undergraduate students. While many public colleges and universities may also award institutional grants, the study has focused on independent institutions because they typically award the largest proportion of such aid.

About the Study Sponsor
Vemo Education transforms the way schools attract students and measure outcomes. Colleges and workforce development organizations leverage Vemo to align tuition with student success. From reimagined financial aid packaging to data-driven enrollment management, Vemo partners with schools to advance clear strategic objectives: higher yield, improved retention, and accelerated completion.


Katy McCreary

Director, Public Relations