CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As colleges around the country continue to hike admission prices, the University of Charleston is bucking the trend and cutting its undergraduate tuition by 22 percent next year.
Beginning in the fall 2012 semester, no undergraduate student at the University of Charleston will pay more than $19,500 in annual tuition and fees. That's a 22 percent drop -- or decrease of $5,500 -- from this year's cost of $25,000.
"We're going to do this because for too long, college was out of reach for middle-class families," UC President Edwin Welch said Wednesday. "We are taking bold steps to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of students."
UC's move comes as the school is reeling from an unprecedented drop in student enrollment this year. Seventy-five fewer students than expected began classes in the fall semester, which cost UC about 3 percent of its revenue and could put several school projects on hold, Welch said in September.
UC currently has 1,339 full-time students.
Like most colleges around the country, UC has seen a decline in the number of students who pay full tuition. The 2011 school year was the first time that no students at the University of Charleston paid the full $25,000 sticker price. Ninety-nine percent of students at UC receive institutional aid and 38 percent receive federal aid, according to Scott Castleman, a university spokesman.
Welch hopes UC's tuition drop will help it compete with other private colleges in the region whose prices would likely increase 4 percent to 5 percent next year.
Tuition costs across the country have skyrocketed in the past decade for private and public colleges. In West Virginia, the average price of admission for a four-year private college in the 2011-2012 school year was $18,606, according to the College Board. That's up nearly 33 percent from six years ago, when the average price of admission was $14,012.
Welch said someone needed to step up to dispel the perception that private college is too expensive for middle-class students, so UC made a bold change to create a "more transparent" tuition scheme.
"We are revising tuition and financial aid to reflect the real cost of a UC education," he said.
Families not savvy with the intricacies of federal and university aid packages can be scared away by a college's high sticker price. Rising tuition costs coupled with an increase in student aid mean that students can usually pay far less for college than a school's advertised price. Higher-priced private colleges usually have larger endowments and more grant aid available, which also can bring down the cost.
While UC's move to cut tuition is rare, Welch said UC modeled its tuition decrease after The University of the South, a liberal arts college in Tennessee that cut its tuition by 10 percent in February.
The school's existing university-provided aid will be adjusted based on the new tuition cost.