“Tuition Reimagined,” with Jordan Grant

Across the nation, college costs rise every year, representing a consistent barrier to students accessing the college of their choice. Over the last decade, the average cost of college has risen by more than 25%. We caught up with Assistant VP for Enrollment Operations and Student Financial Services Jordan Grant to discuss SPU's big "Tuition Reimagined" announcement. Beginning in autumn 2021, the new annual tuition will be reduced by 25% to $35,100 — before financial aid is factored in, which 95% of SPU students receive. Learn more about all the details in this episode of the SPU Voices Podcast.

Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert. Today, we sat down with Jordan Grant. He’s SPU’s associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment management and director of Student Financial Services. As a first- generation college student himself, Jordan understands what it’s like to wade through the information about scholarships and aid, without relying on the experience of a family member. He has used this knowledge to help students understand how they, too, can fulfill a dream of higher education. And now Jordan is going to help us all understand a bold new move SPU is making, so that dream is available to even more students. Jordan, thank you for joining us today.

Jordan Grant: Thank you, Amanda, very happy to be here.

Amanda: Well, let’s start by getting to know you a little bit. Can you tell us about that first-generation journey to college?

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a story I really appreciate telling and having the opportunity to talk about it. As you mentioned, I was a first-generation student. And like many first-generation students, I was a bit naive about my choices. I thought I had one choice. Or even a better explanation: I did not know I could have more than one choice for college. That was my level of education and college experience when I was applying. I applied to one state university because it was far away from home, but not too far. And I was admitted to that school, and that felt great and amazing. It was great opportunity to see that I was chosen to be part of that community. But I did come from a single-parent household where our money was always tight. My mother was a waitress. I am one of three boys that we had in the house, so I knew that financial aid was really important.

I remember getting mail one day, I used to always get the mail coming home from school and got the mail, and I knew my financial aid award letter was in my hand as I got home. And I remember opening it, seeing the numbers, doing quick math in my head, knowing what the tuition and other rates were at the college I was admitted to. And doing that math, I knew I could afford it. And that award letter, for me in that experience, probably was just as important, if not more important, than my admission letter. Because without that financial aid, my dream of that college degree, of going and exploring something that was unknown, but really exciting, would not have come true. So to this day, I think about that financial aid award letter, too, and I think about students who are admitted SPU and at the kitchen table with their parents and looking at the award. It’s a thought that’s personal to me, and a memory that’s still ever-present.

“That award letter, for me … probably was just as important, if not more important, than my admission letter. Because without that financial aid, my dream of that college degree, of going and exploring something that was unknown, but really exciting, would not have come true.”

Amanda: Well, Jordan, let me just take a moment here to say that we had some pretty similar experiences. I came from a single-mother family who was self-employed and she had two daughters, only one year apart, to try and put through college, so that same experience. Getting in is one thing, but then how are you actually going to get through becomes a very different experience. So my work here at SPU and working with parents has been very close to my heart, as well. Having sat there through the tours and through those moments going, “Do I belong here, and can I really make it through?”

Jordan: Yeah, that’s so true, yeah. And there’s the whole other experience once you’re on campus, which was very helpful, as well, but I completely understand your perspective as well. It’s nice to have that shared experience with you.

Amanda: Yeah, and I know so many people do. I think it’s interesting, at least when I was growing up, there was this sort of idea that to make it to a good college, you either had to be very rich or very poor, because that was the only way through. You either had to have great grades and lots of scholarships and no money to pay for it so you got lots of grants, or have your parents be able to write a check. And, of course, that’s not most of us out there, most of us are somewhere in between and you’re going to need to work closely with the university to make it happen.

Jordan: Absolutely correct. So true.

Amanda: So what drew you back to higher ed and finance? Was it that very experience?

Jordan: Yeah, it was, that was a large part of it. It was something that I would like to think that I sought out, and I knew what I was going to do. But quite frankly, like a lot of college grads, I just really needed a job. And I had blessings of a family that lived up here in the Seattle area, and they offered me to come live with them and find job in a larger urban area versus where I was from. And I happened to get a job at a financial aid office at a local university here in the city, but not SPU. And I started there, the financial aid office, as a data entry technician, in 1994. And I was really fortunate that as every time I got that job under my belt, another position opened up that was a promotion and they liked me, I must have done good work, and I was able to be hired and progressively move up in that office.

Then at some point, along the way, I think when I was a financial aid counselor, I realized that I really enjoyed what I was doing. I felt called to it. The math was something that came easily for me, understanding policy and processes and helping students and families navigate them was something I really appreciated. And I was able to communicate those really complicated things to them in ways that they wish they understood. And finally, it was just service. I really felt like I was doing something good for students and, therefore, the world. And I still have that feeling. And since, like I mentioned, I was a first-generation student myself and a high-needs student, as well, I understood where many of these students were coming from and I just love, love serving students. And I know what a difference higher education can make for a student and their entire family.

“I really felt like I was doing something good for students and, therefore, the world. And I still have that feeling.”

Amanda: Yes, absolutely and we very much appreciate the work that you do.

Jordan: Thank you.

Amanda: But I know one of the reasons that you’re sitting down with us today is that you have a very exciting announcement for us, so I won’t make our listeners wait any longer. Why don’t you tell us, what does reimagined tuition look like?

Jordan: Well, thank you for this opportunity, it is very exciting. And we are very excited at SPU to be making this announcement and talking about a program that’s been a culmination of our hard work and intentionality for quite some time now. And we’ve been working on this innovative program, like I said, for quite some time, probably over two years, and I’m just really excited to let you guys know. So just to give you a little bit more context, in April of 2018, President Martin asked for a review of financial aid and the cost of an SPU education. And there’s a couple of us that kind of jumped right in with that and were given the charge to do that work. And we looked at everything. We looked at all kinds of different options that could be out there that were completely out of the box and some that were just minor changes to the way we do business.

But now, through all that research and careful budgeting that we’ve done, and with the Board of Trustees’ review and approval, SPU, we’re taking this bold step and what we believe to be a necessary step into the question of cost of higher education through the Tuition Reimagined program. And that program has three really bold new items. You will hear the word bold often, but once you hear me describe them, I think we’ll all agree that this is fairly bold. So in the Autumn Quarter of the 2021-22 academic year, so essentially a year from now, Seattle Pacific will lower our tuition by 25% to $35,100. That is definitely a bold move. Additionally, we’re-

Amanda: I want to repeat that real quick. Everybody’s talking about how tuition is just too high and things need to change, and so just so I heard you right: In the fall of 2021, our tuition will go down 25%.

“Seattle Pacific will lower our tuition by 25%.”

Jordan: Down 25% to $35,100. I was looking just recently, and this is the same rate that we had just about seven years ago. And so we’ve really done a lot of hard work to fold this into our programming, into our budgets, and we’re really excited about this. And we know we can do it, and now we definitely have opportunity to talk more about that, too. But what I also love about this program is that it’s just not about that top-line price that I just mentioned, which is critical and important, but we’re also doing other things that are built into Tuition Reimagined. We know that price is a definitely significant factor, but so is financial aid, as I’ve been talking about my own personal experience. So we’re refocusing our primary scholarship programs to three main programs that are part of this Tuition Reimagined portfolio. We’re going to roll out an in-state matching scholar award, where qualifying students will pay no more than the tuition and fees at their home state’s flagship university, public flagship university, which is amazing. There’ll be more lot more details about that coming out.

We’re going to continue our Faith for the Future scholar program, in which graduates of a Christian high school, or who have demonstrated their commitment of faith and service, will receive 50% off tuition and SPU aid. And we’re still committed to Washington state students, especially those high-needs students, with our Falcon Bound program, for students who qualify for the Washington College Bound scholarship program will have their full tuition covered by grants and scholarships from SPU and from the federal and state governments. Those three things are significant to help support the students who still need financial aid to come. Even in light of a 25% reduction. And SPU will still offer merit awards for those students who may not qualify for those big three and other scholarships.

Amanda: Well, that sounds amazing, but I’m assuming there’s people out there thinking this may be directly related to COVID. A lot of schools are being asked, how can you charge the same amount of money when students a lot of students are at home being 100% remote. Are these decisions related to right now, to the COVID situation?

Jordan: That’s a great question. The short answer is no. We’ve been working on this, like I mentioned, since April of 2018. We were moving in this direction as early as this year, in February, before any of us knew really anything, the significance of the pandemic. It is just a providential moment in which we were thinking about the future of SPU, the future of our students, thinking about how we can support both things, have a healthy institution, which then supports the healthy and high quality education for students by making it more accessible. At the same time, the difficulties and the challenges around COVID have been apparent for students, so we are just coming together at this time of our careful and thoughtful research since those two years ago in this current moment, and we’re able to make this happen now.

Amanda: Awesome. That actually makes me feel better about it because knowing that it’s been in the works for a long time means there’s probably a lot more foundation than a last-minute pivot decision, right?

Jordan: Yes, absolutely true. Through our budgeting and our thinking about how to fold in this tuition reduction, we’re able to do this without reducing or eliminating programs or anything like that, that could have been a result of this tuition reduction. That’s just not going to happen, and we’ve been really thoughtful about how to, how to make it work.

“Through our budgeting and our thinking about how to fold in this tuition reduction, we’re able to do this without reducing or eliminating programs.”

Amanda: Yeah. Well, let’s dig into that a little bit because, as everybody has to manage their own household budget, one would think if I’m going to earn less money at work, I’m going to have to cut how I spend money at home. So one would assume if we’re asking for less tuition than we must have to cut programs in order to make that happen. So if we’re not going to cut any programs, how is the reimagined tuition going to work?

Jordan: Yeah, that’s a great question. So a couple of things: one, we have been doing this through, like I mentioned, our careful and thoughtful budget stewardship. And generally, SPU is just known in the higher education community for this kind of care and stewardship. And like I mentioned, because of that, we’re not going to be reducing any programs or educational experience. And we’re able to do this in some ways, just by budgeting and reallocating, but also by making sure that the students, the new tuition price will be much more closer to what they pay for after grants and scholarships. So we are reducing some SPU gift aid for students. But one thing that we’re able to do with that, especially for current students, is that after that reduction for 2021, they will still pay the same tuition as they are now. So I’m going to repeat that again.

So our current students, even though our SPU gift aid will be reduced, after their renewable SPU grants and scholarships are considered, they’ll pay the same tuition in fall ’21. So that’s another significant factor. The good news here is that we’re able to manage our budgets differently, provide financial aid for students still, and essentially have our current students experience zero net tuition increase for the fall 2021. And in fact, that’s the first time we’re able to do this in over 25 years,  to have this kind of flat net tuition cost for current students.

“So our current students, even though our SPU gift aid will be reduced, after their renewable SPU grants and scholarships are considered, they’ll pay the same tuition in fall ’21.”

Amanda: Wow. So once they balance that budget of our family can afford this for the first year, you’re able to say, now we can do that all four years. So you’re not worried about how things are going to change over those four years, so that all of a sudden their senior year they’re priced out.

Jordan: Yeah, close. The $0 increases are for our current students in fall 2020, going forward, our fall 2021, people will have a different level of tuition commitment. And this is the kind of the third leg to our stool of this Tuition Reimagined. So that’s the price reduction that I mentioned, it’s the robust scholarship programs that I talked about. But also, we’re making sure that students have some predictability in the tuition costs. So beginning after the fall 2021 academic year, we will be guaranteeing and committing to no more than a 4% tuition increase beginning in that 2022 year, which is actually a very bold step.

So, most of the time, private schools are increasing tuition annually. So anywhere from 5%, 6%, sometimes even 7%. At SPU, our historical average has been about a 5% increase. So after that initial year of lowering tuition, we’re committing to future increases being no more than 4%. So that’s a significant step and we believe it will be helpful for families to know exactly what to expect. And that 4% is going to be on a lower tuition price than, like I said, that’s been for some time. So we’re excited about that, that all three of those things dovetail together to help us reimagine a way in which families can afford Seattle Pacific. And what we really hope to do is lower the barriers for students who considered the list price of tuition as an impediment to them even considering SPU.

Amanda: Right, okay. So again, let me reiterate to make sure I understand. So we’re going to lower that initial price tag, so you have a smaller mountain to climb when you’re trying to figure this out to begin with. You will, after 2021, be guaranteed no more than a 4% increase so you can sort of plan how things will go across your time as a student. But I think there’s one more benefit, you were talking about state school-matching, how does that one work?

Jordan: Yeah, it’s a scholarship program that is definitely coming online for fall ’21, and it’s called the In-State Matching Scholar Award. So qualifying students, based upon academics, will qualify for this award for their net tuition and fees at Seattle Pacific. So, after SPU grants and scholarships, costs will be no more than their home state’s flagship university. And that’s going to be applicable for students who come from Washington state, California, Oregon, Hawaii. And we’re very excited about that particular program.

Amanda: And I love that you said tuition and fees because I understand that sometimes those big state schools have limits, governmental limits, on how much they can raise tuition. Sometimes there can be a little bit of a bait-and-switch where the fees are actually higher than tuition itself.

Jordan: Yes, that is true. And most often you’ll see really nominal increases in tuition that public schools advertise and market, but you will see fees in the thousands of dollars for many flagship universities.

Amanda: And just to compare, what’s SPU average amount of fees per year?

Jordan: Yeah. It’s about $400, $400 to $450 really, depending on your enrollment.

Amanda: Well, this sounds like such good news for families, if nothing else, to simplify the process a little bit, but very much so to actually bring down that mountain that you’re trying to climb. So again, I’m just trying to put this in words that that families can understand. So if you were sitting at a kitchen table with a family looking at SPU and maybe other colleges as well, what’s the most important thing you want them to know about this process?

Jordan: That’s a great question. And about the process in particular to our Tuition Reimagined program?

Amanda: Sure.

Jordan: Yeah. A number of different things. One, what we really hope is that with the lower price point, that many students would be able to consider SPU that may not have in the past. But we know that there are students out there that what would be a great fit for Seattle Pacific. Our research showed that almost 45% of some students just didn’t even consider Seattle Pacific because of our price. Many of those students would be great students for the SPU community and would appreciate the type of education SPU delivers. And so when the family’s looking and sitting down at the kitchen table and looking at the information, I want them to be able to consider SPU if they haven’t before. Second, I would like for them to see where they would fit into the financial picture of our scholarships and grants with their own home budget.

“What we really hope is that, with the lower price point, that many students would be able to consider SPU that may not have in the past.”

And that is by applying to Seattle Pacific, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is an aid application most colleges and universities use around the country, and those two things put SPU in a position to be able to put together a comprehensive aid package, amongst many of the different things I just spoke about, with a lower price point that hopefully makes attending SPU doable for that family. And we want to do everything we can to help meet the needs of those students who believe SPU is the best fit for them to achieve their educational goals.

Amanda: What would you tell parents? What is the most important question to ask, or the question that a lot of families don’t think to ask?

Jordan: Yeah, that’s a really good question. As families look at different colleges, some may believe that a degree is a degree, right? I’ve heard that a few times of the most recent years, and not all colleges deliver the same thing. It may seem like a degree is a degree, no matter where you receive it, but it’s life-changing experiences in and outside the classroom that are really important. It’s the development of the soul, of your core of who you are, it’s care and service for others, and a calling that you discover what God has for you and what you, as a person, receive for the challenges of the life in that education and in strengthening your resilience. So not all schools can provide that kind of opportunity. So I think it’s really important for students to ask, “Is this school a really good fit for me?” And parents should be asking that with their children, guiding them in that way. Does the student see themselves developing into a fuller person than they are at the day that they’re considering schools?

Do you feel like, in visiting a campus, “Am I seen there, and do I have a chance if I experience a challenge along the way, will have I help, will I be served, will there be support systems to make sure that I can achieve my dreams?” So a lot of those things are intangibles because colleges and universities have lots of data that they’ll give to students and families about the percentage of how many students graduated, what’s the average debt, how many landed a job or went into grad school. And all those are important; families should be asking for those things. But where a student sees themselves being the most successful is really critical.

Amanda: Absolutely. I would say that was definitely true in my own life, and I’m guessing, based on your experience that, you would say the same thing.

Jordan: Yes.

Amanda: It’s interesting, sometimes I think the most important question to ask is to simply ask. I’ve heard students say many times that they don’t even apply to their dream school for any number of reasons. And I think it just doesn’t hurt to ask. How do you know it’s not possible until you ask the question?

Jordan: Yeah, that’s so true. And we really hope that with our Tuition Reimagined program, our reduction of price, that we’ll have an opportunity to answer those questions that students ask us because they feel like now they have an opportunity to ask them.

Amanda: Absolutely. Well, thank you for all the good work that you and your team have done and I’m sure will continue to do for quite some time, getting this ready to roll out and serve so many students. So let me end with our last question that we love to ask all of our guests. From your unique experience, if you could have everyone in Seattle wake up tomorrow and do one thing differently that would make the world a better place, what would you have us do?

Jordan: Whoa, that’s it a big question and it’s a really good question. In thinking about it, I think in part of Jesus’ great commandment, which calls for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And in thinking about that, I think it’s easy to do so when your neighbors look like you and think like you, when your neighbors’ stories are really similar to your own. But if people woke up tomorrow in Seattle and found a way to listen to each other’s stories, especially those stories that are different from your own, or even difficult to hear, just to be with that other person in their story, understanding it and experiencing that story as true and as real as your own, even if it is different, that would be a big, huge first step in making the world a better place and making our Seattle area a better place. And I think that in doing that, you might even find the essence or some part of that other story is like yours, and that God is at work in those stories, and who knows? You may be God’s instrument for good with one another.

Amanda: And I will say that what you just described is one of the things I love the most about higher education, at least what I’ve experienced in higher education, is that it’s a melting pot in which you get to experience those times of story and learning the stories of others that are very different from you on a very regular basis. I think we can wedge ourselves into very like-minded circles as we age. And I love the point of education where it really does push us into experiencing the stories of others. And I absolutely second what you said that we all need to continue down that road, no matter how old we are.

Jordan: I agree completely. Absolutely.

Amanda: All right. Well, thank you Jordan, for joining us today and I’m guessing that quite a few of our listeners are going to be calling you and asking you for more details about how this lower tuition is going to work, but thank you so much for joining us.

Jordan: You’re welcome. And we’re ready for those questions, just bring them on. I’m happy to have them.

Amanda: OK, thank you so much.

Jordan: Thank you. Bye-bye.


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