From the Field

Research Notes: Does Lower Tuition Attract More Students to College?

To increase access to college, a growing number of states and communities are creating “college promise” programs that lower or eliminate college tuition for local students. One of them is the North Carolina Promise. Launched in 2018, the program reduces tuition at three University of North Carolina campuses to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students.

A team of four researchers, including two from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used IPEDS data and a statistical method called “synthetic control” to analyze the program’s effects on student enrollment and persistence. Their findings were nuanced; while there was no noticeable increase in first-year student enrollment, the program successfully attracted more transfer students and notably increased Hispanic student enrollment at one of the campuses.

Retention rates remained unchanged across the three universities, suggesting that the tuition reductions didn’t influence students’ decisions to continue their studies. The research suggests a need for comprehensive strategies that not only make college more affordable but also address other barriers to college access and completion.

Do Students Respond to Sticker-Price Reductions?: Evidence from the North Carolina Promise

Daniel Klasik, William Zahran, Rachel Worsham, and Matthew G. Springer

March 2024