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UC vows to cut tuition rates by 22 percent

By Amber Marra
Craig Cunningham
University of Charleston President Ed Welch announced a list of changes planned for the school that will take effect in the next five to seven years. Among them is a tuition decrease of 22 percent that will begin next year for all undergraduate students and an $18.5 million sports and fitness center that will be constructed.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston will slash tuition rates by 22 percent next year in an effort to bolster enrollment.

The tuition decrease is one of several changes that UC President Ed Welch and a committee of stakeholders at the private school have been considering.  

In an economic climate that caused public colleges and universities across the state to increase tuition last summer, Welch said he realized that the move to decrease UC's $25,000 yearly tuition to $19,500 was a bold move.

"It's a gutsy thing to do, but we know it's the right thing to do," Welch said.

While incoming freshmen will pay no more than $19,500 per year, current students still will be charged the $25,000 rate, but with a guaranteed $6,000 in financial aid to lower their cost.

There are 1,339 full-time students at UC this year, a sizeable increase from the 852 who were enrolled in 2005.

"We're doing this because for too long middle class families have said higher education, particularly private higher education, is out of reach, and we want to make the bold statement of saying no, it is not out of your reach," Welch said during a press conference on Wednesday.

UC isn't the first private school in the state to lower tuition in hopes of increasing enrollment.

In 2002, Bethany College in Brooke County lowered tuition by 42 percent from $20,650 to $12,000. That move upped enrollment by 13 percent, but tuition rates have gradually risen to $22,954, said Rebecca Ann Rose, director of communications at Bethany.

Despite that, Bethany experienced its best enrollment since 1976 last year with 1,020 students, Rose said.

But UC isn't only decreasing tuition. It is also adding to its campus and changing parts of its curriculum to make it easier for students to finish early.

Plans are in the works for a new $26 million on-campus sports and fitness center.

The first phase, which will cost about $18.5 million, will involve demolishing the 64-year-old Eddie King Gymnasium and building a new basketball arena.

Welch said the money for the first phase of the project comes from "a couple of nice gifts."

"We want students who are here to have a wonderful campus-based experience, and as we all know, intercollegiate athletics is part of that experience," Welch said.

A new arena will help with Welch's desire for UC's basketball teams to be more competitive.

There are hopes for a second phase that will focus on renovating the Gorman Physical Education Building and improve the swimming pool.

Improving sports facilities isn't the only way Welch wants to draw in more students.

In fact, he would like them to finish and move on with their education or professional lives faster after they start. Another initiative is to give students ways to complete their bachelor's degrees in fewer than four years.

The university is also set to be available during the summer as part of the Future Scholars Academy, which will allow high school students to take college classes on campus.

Welch also said UC would simplify the process for community college graduates to transition to the university.

Welch wants the pharmacy program, which partners with the City of Charleston to provide its employees with health care consultations, to expand services to other workplaces.

"It introduces a very clear focus on our students being prepared to be providing services to patients and serving them rather than serving pills. So we want a patient focus within the curriculum of the pharmacy school," Welch said.

Although many of the initiatives focus on making it easier for students to enroll at UC, Welch said most of the changes would benefit every student.

Welch pointed to Ryan Moran, a public policy and business administration senior, as an example of the kind of students UC could attract if all of the changes go as planned.

Moran, a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, also served on the committee that helped develop the changes.

"I think that as I looked at UC as my future alma mater, I thought of it in the long term as a sustainable institution and strived to look at it not only as it is in the present, but how it could be in the future," Moran said.

Contact writer Amber Marra at amber.marra@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.


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