Grove City College: Low on Costs, Leads on Academics

With the U.S. economy still a long way from complete recovery and the post-graduation employment picture for college students still seemingly grim, the specter of college debt looms large. Which is why Grove City College, and its tuition, which, at $13,598 per year is nearly half the average tuition charged by U.S. colleges, are so appealing to its students. The low tuition at the small liberal arts school, located in the picturesque part of Pennsylvania, isn’t the only thing setting it apart. The school also accepts no federal funding, prohibits its students from applying for any kind of federal aid and its faculty is entirely non-tenured.

The caliber of students Grove City attracts is a testament to the success of its revolutionary approach to higher education. Last year, its incoming class had the average SAT score of 1244, which is nearly 240 points higher than the national average. It ranks 87th out of 87 private colleges in the state in both tuition and tuition room and board, but that is the only metric by which Grove City lags its peers.

Don Francis, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, speculated that a combination of careful management and generous donors are at work.

“I don’t want to disparage other colleges that use a different model, because some of them are able to provide access to low-income students just as effectively and perhaps more so than Grove City,” Francis said. “But I guess Grove City is the best example in Pennsylvania of a school that has managed to really keep their tuition down in a surprising way. … They’ve done an extremely good job of fundraising and managing their operating budget.”

Grove City President Richard Jewell explains that the school keeps its costs down not by accounting tricks but by making a reality out of the Calvinist ideals of living within your means. According to Jewell, the money Grove City takes in via tuition, room and board fees cover almost the entirety of its yearly costs and operating budget.

And low cost doesn’t mean low quality. One of the school’s undergraduates, biochemistry major Arleigh McRae says that he chose Grove City over an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, believing that it was a better fit for him. So far, it doesn’t look like he has any regrets.

Overall, the school’s 78% four-year graduation rate not only puts it well out in front of the 58% average for all U.S. four-year schools, but testifies to the quality of both the instruction and the student body.