Immaculata University will become the third local Catholic college to reduce tuition in an effort to attract students who may have been scared away by its climbing sticker price.

Under the Immaculata Advantage, tuition will be reset to $26,500 for 2017-18, down 23 percent from this year's $34,410.

Immaculata also will reduce the amount it hands out in scholarships and grants. That means students won't see a big reduction in their out-of-pocket costs.

But they will have a realistic, upfront picture of the college's cost, said Gerald J. Wargo Jr., vice president for enrollment management.

"It's all about opening Immaculata up to more potential students who otherwise may not have looked at us because our costs were too high," he said.

Without a reset, Immaculata's sticker price, including tuition and room and board, would have risen to almost $50,000 next year. Now it will be $39,900.

The Chester County university also will make SAT and ACT scores optional for admission to most majors to attract a wider pool of applicants.

And it is likely to get its first lay leader. Sister R. Patricia Fadden, who has been president since 2002, will retire at the end of this academic year. All three finalists for her job are lay people, spokeswoman Lydia Szyjka said. The finalists, according to the university's website, are: William J. Bisset, vice president for enrollment management at Manhattan College in New York; Donald Boomgaarden, former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at The University of Scranton; and Barbara Lettiere, chief financial officer of Trinity Washington University, DC. and an Immaculata alumna who is a member of the board of trustees.

Immaculata's tuition reduction plan is similar to those of Rosemont College and LaSalle University. Rosemont announced a 43 percent cut in 2015 and implemented it for 2016-17. La Salle said last fall it would reset tuition for 2017-18, cutting it to $28,800.

Immaculata was founded by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as Villa Maria College in 1920. It became a university in 2002 and went co-ed in 2005. In the 1970s, the school won the first three national women's college basketball championships, the subject of the 2011 film The Mighty Macs.

Immaculata, like many colleges, has struggled in recent years to attract enough students as the number of high school graduates has declined and higher education becomes more competitive.

In 2015, its freshman class had shrunk to 185 students, from 219 in 2014.
The college last year enhanced recruitment in neighboring states and worked more closely with Catholic high schools, Wargo said. The university also reduced its room costs by 10 percent, from $7,200 to $6,300 annually.

In fall 2016, the freshman class jumped 16 percent to 216 students, Wargo said. Overall full time undergraduate enrollment this year is 879. Immaculata will not increase room costs for next year, he said.

The school knew more steps were needed to stay competitive, Wargo said, and had closely followed Rosemont's tuition cut. Rosemont also knocked $1,900 off room and board, bringing tuition and room and board to about $30,000.

As a result, the college saw a 64 percent increase in applications and a nearly 15 percent increase in traditional undergraduate enrollment for fall 2016, including freshmen and transfers. Enrollment rose from 446 to 512.

More than two dozen colleges nationally have reduced tuition in recent decades with varying success. Lucie Lapovsky, a former college president-turned-consultant, in 2015 completed a study on eight colleges that rolled back tuition. Seven saw increases in freshmen the first year, and of the four that made the change several years ago, all had maintained the increase, she found.