At least one small liberal arts college has jumped off the prestige train, cutting tuition by one-third. And this leap is even more spectacular because of how fast this locomotive has been moving. The cost of college has doubled in just the last 15 years. And, other than at St. John’s, shows no sign of slowing down.  

St. John’s college has 800 students on two campuses who study and debate the works of the world’s greatest thinkers, such as Homer, Plato, Nietzsche, Austen, Einstein, and Woolf. Classes average seven students per faculty member.  

And though classes are small, actually, because classes are small, the cost of going to St. John’s has traditionally been high. More than $52,000 in tuition alone last year. But for the coming academic year, the price is dropping to $35,000, a nearly one-third decrease. In addition, the school is offering $10,000 grants to every New Mexico resident, effectively lowering the tuition to a maximum of $25,000.

Why did they do it?

Mark Roosevelt, President of St. John’s, acknowledges that the college had been participating in a trend among private colleges to gain prestige by adopting tuition increases that vastly outstrip inflation. “We’re opting out of prestige pricing, we’re setting our tuition at a lower point,” said Roosevelt.   

Most students do not pay the full price for tuition, but the school has determined that many possible students do not consider St. John’s an option due to sticker shock.

Most students do not pay full price at the school. An average student leaves St. John’s with just under $30,000 in debt, which is less than the national average of nearly $40,000. Still, going to St. John’s has been expensive.

Since 1696

Started in 1696 in Annapolis, Maryland, and now expanded to Santa Fe, New Mexico, St. John’s is the third oldest college in the U.S. Its teaching model is unique. Classes are extremely small. There is no adjunct faculty. It even has its own wooden student chairs, called johnnies.

To pay for the decrease, the college is hoping to double its endowment in the next five years and has announced a major pledge of $50 million from Stag’s Leap founder Warren Winiarski. No matter the outcome, in making this effort, St. John’s is acknowledging its participation in an unsustainable acceleration in pricing.

“We believe we did participate in something that was a mistake, which was this tremendous escalation in the sticker price, and we regret it,” Roosevelt said.