Sewanee Tuition Reduction News Spreads Online

This week the Board of Regents at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. announced tuition for the 2011-12 academic year. As college tuition continues to increase, they are making a 10 percent reduction, a change no other top-tier private college has tried. The economy and this “bold and risky move” can be discussed all day, read on. But what intrigued me (and what is relevant to this blog) was how the information was presented.

Sewanee’s announcement was intentionally spread virally through their website, via email and over social media tools.

Wednesday afternoon, the homepage,, got a new look. A “Yes 10%” video and headline dominated the page and the top story became “University cuts college cost by 10% for next year.” The top story is presented as a standard press release that includes another video of Vice-Chancellor John McCardell explaining the decision.

While the website was waiting for visitors, emails sharing the news were sent to people connected with the University including alumni, college counselors and applicants. They also shared the news via their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. The article on their website featured options to email, “like” or “tweet” the article. Quickly, word spread about this revolutionary move.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal nabbed the story Wednesday evening, posted articles online and published the articles in Thursday’s print editions. On Thursday, the social media conversation continued over blogs, filled Twitter streams and was picked up by local news outlets.

From a mountaintop in Sewanee, the online announcement has spread across the country and even overseas. It was sparked by a well-executed online campaign, spread across the Internet and engulfed by print publications and live broadcasts. It’s amazing to see a place so steeped in tradition adapting to new communication tools and using the tools well.

The University of the South is a place of time past and present, conventional in its wisdom but progressive in its thinking. The architecture, the wilderness and the people that make it are special to many yet undiscovered by more. It’s a place of wonderment for four years and a priceless liberal arts education that guides you forever. Kudos to Sewanee for having the confidence to change.