Ferrum College President Mirta Martin. Courtesy of Ferrum College.
Ferrum College President Mirta Martin. Courtesy of Ferrum College.

Ferrum College announced Friday that it will reduce undergraduate tuition by $10,000, effective fall 2024. It’s part of an ongoing effort to attract students to the small school that has faced declining enrollment.

The reduction will be available for new and returning students. In addition, returning juniors and seniors at the private Methodist college in Franklin County will receive a $500 “institutional persistence” grant to help reduce their costs of attending.

Mirta Martin, who was announced permanent head of the college in October after 10 months as interim president, said in a speech on campus Friday that the reduction “will expand opportunities to incoming and returning students seeking an excellent education in an inclusive, values-based environment.”

Tuition for 2023-2024 is $37,400. Starting in fall 2024, it will be around $27,000. Room, board and fees add up to an additional $14,000 per academic year.

Ferrum recently established the Panther Promise, a last-dollar financial aid program to guarantee free tuition for in-state students from low-income households. Eligible students must live on campus. 

The program also provides $4,500 annual scholarships for all out-of-state students.

The new tuition reduction is most likely to help students whose household income is too high to be eligible for free tuition through the Panther Promise. By reducing tuition, a student’s federal, state and institutional financial aid can stretch further, potentially reducing the loans they must take on to bridge any remaining gap between cost and aid.

Ferrum also began freezing tuition in 2020, to make the cost of attending more predictable for returning students. For example, tuition remained the same for students starting school in fall 2022 who then returned to class in fall 2023.

The school is hoping to attract more students from a shrinking pool of high school graduates that has plentiful options for pursuing academics or on-the-job training. Ferrum had about 1,500 students 10 years ago, but enrollment has dropped to less than 1,000. For fall 2023, the college enrolled an estimated 784 students.

Several small schools in Southwest Virginia have reduced or “reset” tuition in recent years, including Randolph College, University of Lynchburg and Sweet Briar College. 

Roanoke College, which has double the student body of Ferrum, reduced tuition by 30% at the start of the 2022 academic year. That reduction of about $10,000 landed its tuition at about $36,000 per year.

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at lisa@cardinalnews.org or 540-384-1313.