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Tuition reset aims to increase future enrollment

(Photo courtesy of Maya Martin) Attendees of Mills College's 2017 Convocation ceremony leave Holmgren Meadow following the event on Sept. 15, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Maya Martin)
Attendees of Mills College’s 2017 Convocation ceremony leave Holmgren Meadow following the event on Sept. 15, 2017.

Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman announced a tuition reset geared towards making Mills more accessible during Convocation on September 15.

The tuition reset is a component of the Financial Stabilization Plan, which aims to eliminate Mills’ deficit in three years. The reset, which brought tuition down 36 percent from $44,765 to $28,765, will take effect fall 2018. The goal of the lowered tuition is to bring the high sticker price down and provide more transparency for prospective students about how much they would actually be paying while attending Mills. 

“There isn’t an admission counselor for a private college that doesn’t know the disappointment at a college fair when a student stops at your table, asks the tuition, receives the answer and then turns away,” Director of Admissions Robynne Royster said. “This happens countless times before we can share our great location, outstanding programs, diverse community, and substantial financial aid.”

Although Mills gives out generous financial aid awards, many families see Mills’ high sticker price and decide it is not possible without knowing how much they would actually be expected to pay. Hillman hopes the tuition reset will help families understand the actual price of attending Mills before losing interest.

“We wanted to make Mills more accessible to students and therefore generate more interest in enrollment,” Hillman said.

The tuition reset will apply to continuing students as well as incoming students. The cut was also applied to student’s institutional aid and scholarships, although Hillman says no student will be paying more next year than they paid this year.

“Tuition at Mills College was reduced by $16,000, which is the same amount Mills institutional aid was adjusted by,” Director of Financial Aid Dustin Smith-Salinas said. “This includes any merit, need-based, and named or endowed scholarships provided by Mills as a tuition reduction for students.”

With both tuition and aid receiving $16,000 cuts, students are left with a new bill slightly less than the previous one.

“The average amount full-time undergraduates will pay next year is about $1,000 less than what they would have paid without the tuition reduction,” said Kathy Baugher, vice president of enrollment management.

Although Mills has the capacity to house and feed more residential students, an increase in enrollment would bring new challenges to the school.

“We also realize that depending on how successful it is in generating some buzz and generating more interest, we’d have to adjust and add resources to support if there was a significantly larger student body, and we’d love to have that challenge,” Hillman said.

Although a larger student body could lead to larger class sizes and less individual attention for the students, Hillman doesn’t want to let go of what makes Mills unique.

“We want Mills to still be Mills, but [to] be Mills with more people in the mix who could benefit from where we are,” Hillman said.

Jillian Mosley, student representative for the Board of Trustees, chose Mills because of the unparalleled qualities Hillman wants to preserve. While cost plays a role in picking a college, Mosley believes it is not the only factor considered.

“I don’t think the average Mills student came here because of the cost,” Mosley said. “We came here to be in an atmosphere that empowers women, that is social-justice forward, that is inclusive, that has some great scholars who inspire our own studies, all in a beautiful environment.”

While the tuition reset is primarily geared towards recruiting new students, Mills is also working on ways to keep the current students here.

“We absolutely need to work on retention initiatives, and there are a number of retention initiatives underway right now to support a variety of different student needs, better academic advising, better communication, more mental health services, more integrated advising and a team approach to helping student success,” Hillman said. “That’s really about current students as much as it’s about the new students who join our current students next year.”

The tuition reset will lower student bills, but is not focused on lowering student debt.

“This doesn’t specifically say that we can eliminate student debt, although that would be a fabulous goal,” Hillman said. “Primarily this is an enrollment growth measure.”

Although the tuition reset will keep tuition from rising at the rate that had been planned for, the school cannot promise tuition will not continue to rise.

“The challenge for us in higher education is we do have to keep the lights on, and those costs keep going up,” Hillman said.

Hillman hopes the tuition reset will increase enrollment, which will in turn increase funding for resources to support all students in order to succeed.

“Mills only succeeds if our students do,” Hillman said.