Nova Southeastern is among private Florida schools stepping up recruiting efforts.
In an economy where money is tight and everyone's looking for a bargain, Florida's most expensive universities are attracting more students than expected.
The state's private universities, while battling decreased endowments and budget cuts, have been aggressively recruiting students this past year, even those who might think a $22,000-a-year price tag is out of reach. They're holding open houses to educate prospective students about what they offer. They're limiting tuition increases and offering incentives.
Their efforts are showing signs of success. Most of the state's private colleges were able to maintain their enrollments or see modest increases. Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, an association that represents 28 private colleges, reported a 2.8 percent increase in enrollment.
"I'm confident the colleges have used every tool available to them to create access for students," said Ed Moore, president of the association. "Otherwise, our numbers wouldn't look the way they look."
Private universities are competing with the less expensive community colleges and public universities, which faced record demand as unemployed workers looked for training and parents looked for affordable places to send their children to college.
But many of these schools are crowded. Some public universities have frozen enrollment of freshmen, and community colleges have struggled to open classes fast enough to meet demand. Private colleges say they've been able to appeal to these students, offering scholarships and financial aid as well as smaller classes and campuses and more advisers.
"These are hard times for private institutions, so it's incumbent upon us to demonstrate to students how we can be affordable without killing their families, and what they would get that differs from other kinds of institutions," said Delsie Phillips, vice president for enrollment management at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
Nonprofit private colleges, such as Lynn and the University of Miami, cost $10,000 to about $40,000 a year and appeal to traditional college students. For-profit career colleges, which cater to older students focused on career training, cost about $7,000 to $15,000. Community colleges cost about $2,400 a year, public universities $4,000 and for-profits about $7,000 to $15,000.
UM met its enrollment target, staying at about 15,000 students. Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach and Barry University in Miami Shores each increased enrollment by a few hundred students. Lynn University fell by 186 students.
Private college tuition and fees increased an average of 4.3 percent, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the lowest increase in 37 years, said Tony Pals, a spokesman for the group. He said the colleges also increased grant aid by about 9 percent.
"What we have observed anecdotally is a higher-than-expected number of private institutions are reporting record, near-record or otherwise successful enrollments," Pals said.
He said the universities are making cuts to areas such as construction and renovation, salaries and travel to offset the expenses. For example, UM has deferred most hiring, wage increases and construction projects, said Joe Natoli, senior vice president for business and finance.
Lynn, which charges about $29,000 a year, will start a new program next school year in which high-performing students can take extra courses during the semester and summers and finish in three years, saving them an estimated $45,000 in tuition and fees. The school has also has been limiting tuition increases to about 3 percent and is holding more events on campus to recruit students.
Palm Beach Atlantic, which charges $22,400, has increased its need-based aid and is more aggressively recruiting in places where current students and alumni live. The school also froze housing and meal plan rates, as well as tuition for master's degree students and evening undergraduate students.
Enrollment at the state's largest private college, Nova Southeastern, increased from about 28,500 to 29,000. For the first time, the school this year offered full tuition, a $20,500 value, to any student who qualifies for the Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars award. This fall, 63 students received the full ride.
Erick Campbell, a senior at Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs, hopes to receive it next year.
"The cost of college is a big factor," he said. "If I can't afford coming to Nova, I'll end up going to Broward College and then transferring."
Joe Sharp, dean of admissions at Palm Beach Atlantic, said when he arrived at the Christian university last year, the school hadn't held an open house in nine years. Now they're held regularly.
While recruiting efforts and financial aid offers cost the schools money, they still benefit,
The state pays about $2,500 a year for any student who attends a private university in Florida. Bright Futures recipients also get about $2,800 to $3,800, which can be paid to a public or private university in the state. The schools have also become adept at helping students find scholarships and other financial aid.
"The bottom line is it's always better to have students enrolled than not," said David Hawkins, director of Public Policy and Research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.