Hear Us Out: When Colleges Talk About Tuition Increases

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Virginia Tech

In the decades that followed World War II, tuition at American colleges was well within the financial reach of most families. Since 1980, however, it has grown more expensive to attend both public and private colleges, as tuition has surged at a rate that has far outpaced inflation. At the same time, the economic and lifestyle disparities between those who earn four-year degrees and those who do not have reached record levels. As a result, students have to go to college in order to have a realistic shot at prosperity, but must borrow significantly in order to afford the cost of attendance. Colleges are aware that whenever the subject of increased tuition comes up, be it a proposed increase or an official one, it is a threat to their image and is likely to be viewed as offensive by students, who are already straining from the high cost of college. Thus, colleges employ a range of image restoration theory strategies at all phases of the conflict management life cycle, in order to restore, repair, and protect their images. While the rhetorical strategies taken by colleges may be given a great deal of thought by college spokespersons, they are not always strategically appropriate. This thesis uses mental accounting to extend image restoration theory, and offers rhetorical strategies that colleges may consider in order to minimize the threat to their images posed by increased tuition.

image restoration, Education, Higher, mental accounting, reference prices, tuition increases, crisis communication