BRISTOL, R.I. – With freshman undergraduate enrollment up 15 percent in two years and the number of first-year law students up 24 percent since last fall – all in an admissions climate characterized by sharply shrinking enrollments, particularly in New England – Roger Williams University has pledged to continue its Affordable Excellence initiative to confront increasing costs, rising debt and the job-readiness of graduates, among the most pressing challenges facing higher education today.
At the undergraduate level, this means the University’s tuition freeze (which has locked tuition at $29,976 since 2012) and four-year tuition guarantee (which can save students as much as $15,000 by ensuring that tuition will not rise during a student’s time on campus) now extend through the 2015-16 academic year.
“Undergraduates at Roger Williams have seen no increase in tuition since 2012,” says RWU President Donald J. Farish. “To my knowledge, no other private university in this country has both frozen tuition for three years running and guaranteed that it won’t increase for students enrolled. And while we are keeping cost in check, we’re also strengthening the academic experience at RWU. Both through formal surveys of our students and by the large size of our incoming class, it’s clear that Affordable Excellence is important to students and parents.”
For Roger Williams University School of Law students, the continuation of Affordable Excellence means the 18-percent tuition reduction (to $33,792) implemented for the current academic year now extends through 2015-16, along with RWU Law’s three-year tuition guarantee. Together, the reduction and guarantee translate to some $30,426 in saving over the course of three years, compared to the previous model.
“We have disrupted the market on cost,” says RWU Law Dean Michael J. Yelnosky, noting that among more than 200 law schools in America, Roger Williams is one of only a half dozen to decrease tuition. “We’re now the best-priced, ABA-accredited private law school in the Northeast, and applicants are responding. The significant turnaround in our first-year enrollment is a clear indication that we’re giving students what they want – a high-quality, hands-on legal education at an affordable price.”
The University originally launched the Affordable Excellence initiative in October 2012 after missing its target for new freshmen by 2 percent. In addition to the affordability measures, the University has focused on expanding opportunities for project-based learning to amplify classroom learning with real-world skills and ensure that students graduate as “job-ready” as possible, a key factor in landing employment. For undergrads, those opportunities come in the form of collaborative research with faculty, Community Partnerships Center projects, internships, immersive Living/Learning Community experiences and more.
By October 2013, freshman enrollment had climbed to 1,102 students, exceeding that year’s admissions goal; after marketing the initiative to prospective students for a second recruitment cycle, 1,149 first-year students joined the university this fall.
“Students – and particularly, parents – like these ideas very much,” Farish says. “We are declaring ourselves partners with our students and parents, in ensuring an education that is affordable, excellent and preparatory for the post-collegiate job opportunities they’ll seek upon graduation.”
In January 2014, the University extended the Affordable Excellence initiative to the School of Law, announcing the 18-percent tuition reduction and the three-year guarantee. These moves translate to lower debt loads for students – an important step forward in an environment where the availability of law jobs nationwide has diminished and starting salaries have dropped.
Simultaneously, RWU Law expanded its commitment to offering students a rigorous, marketable legal education that enables graduates to emerge job-ready and prepared to thrive in their early careers. Among other efforts, the School launched a new Community Economic Development Clinic in which students provide business-related legal services to nonprofits and community-based businesses; introduced its expanded Feinstein Center for Pro Bono and Experiential Education; and instituted an explicit guarantee that every qualified student will be afforded a substantial clinical experience.
The strategy brought an immediate, positive impact on enrollment. While many other law schools faced continued enrollment declines, RWU Law saw a spike: 138 first-year law students joined the school this fall, compared with 111 in Fall 2013. And despite the volatile law school admissions climate, RWU Law did not compromise its admissions criteria to bring in the larger class.
“Offering a relevant, experiential legal education is in this school’s DNA.” Yelnosky says. “When we opened our doors 21 years ago, hands-on legal education was an emerging trend, and we built our curriculum around it. Now we’re leaders in the field, and others are rushing to catch up. Similarly, we are responding to the seismic shifts currently reshaping the legal profession and giving our students the kind of education they need to thrive in this new reality, all at a price that makes sense. It isn’t a marketing gimmick. It’s who we are at RWU Law.”
Looking forward to the years beyond 2015-16, Farish says the university and law school will keep tuition rates level for as long as it remains financially feasible – keeping any potential increases (if required) low – and will continue to publish the following year’s tuition rates as early as possible.
More information on the Affordable Excellence initiative is available via the Roger Williams University and RWU Law websites. Read weekly commentary from Farish published via his President’s Blog, or view posts from Yelnosky and others via the Trending@RWULaw blog. Yelnosky also maintains an active Twitter feed (@MichaelYelnosky) offering real-time updates on what is happening at RWU Law.