Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester announced last month the private school is lowering the sticker price of on-campus tuition by two-thirds, making it more affordable than many public colleges.

“What we’ve known for a long time is that we were increasingly out of reach — financial reach — of the families that we like to serve,” SNHU President Paul LeBlanc told WGBH News. Net tuition will be zero for first-year students taking some or all of their classes online, even if they are living on campus come September.

“If you’re willing to come and take gen ed courses in a hybrid model, we’ll lower your tuition to $10,000 and we’re going to give you a 100 percent scholarship so there’s no risk to you,” LeBlanc said, adding that it wasn’t a hard decision to make. “Honestly, we have a lot of work to figure out how to get our tuition from $31,000 to $10,000, but as soon as we thought of the incoming students, we thought, ‘No, we’ve got to do this.’”

In response to the pandemic and current economic crisis, some less selective colleges like SNHU — trying to compete for a shrinking pool of high school graduates — have lowered their price tags quickly and dramatically for the fall 2020 school year.

In Wisconsin, Beloit College is price-matching private schools in five adjoining states. In Ohio, Franciscan University is covering 100 percent of tuition for incoming students. Davidson College in North Carolina says incoming students can defer paying their tuition bill for a full year. The University of Maine is offering discounts to students attending colleges that have shut down due to the pandemic.

After the Great Recession of 2008, many private colleges were slow to recognize the financial pain Americans were feeling. As a result, families took on a heavy burden of student debt, and colleges lost public trust. Higher education became a political punching bag — on the left for mounting student debt, and the right as bastions of liberalism.

Earlier this week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that more than 600 colleges are self-reporting they still have space for students for this fall — up from less than 300 a few years ago — and last week, S&P Global Ratings revised the outlooks from stable to negative for certain nonprofit colleges.

In this economic downturn, many cash-strapped colleges unable to reopen their campuses in the fall could be fighting for their survival.

“This has been a really challenging year for higher education, even before coronavirus,” said Nick Ducoff, co-founder and CEO of Edmit, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps families make financial decisions about college.

Ducoff pointed out that even before the pandemic, about a third of colleges were running deficits and families were questioning the value of going to college.

“College costs have been rising. Outcomes have stayed flat,” he said. “When you have higher costs and flat outcomes, that means that there’s been downward pressure on the return on investment.”

Ducoff said what SNHU has managed to do is a testament to colleges that are well-managed and support remote teaching and learning. SNHU has built a massive online platform catering to adult students, which it advertises in national TV spots.

“They have been investing for years in technology, not just with respect to online learning, but technology across the organization, and now they’re able to pass through some of the gains that they made through those investments back to the student, which is tremendous,” he said.

Still, Ducoff cautioned that most colleges in New England are not in a financial — or digital — position to reduce their price tags because they’re so dependent on tuition dollars and are incurring new expenses to migrate courses online.

“Extremely few schools can pull off what Southern New Hampshire did,” he said.

LeBlanc of SNHU said the response to its April 22 announcement from families was enormous and immediate.

“By the end of the day, we set an all-time record for deposits in one day,” he reported. “And the next day, we beat that record.”

SNHU had moved its deposit deadline from May 1 to June 1, but it has already filled all 1,000 seats in its incoming class.

“Not only have people been eager to grab one of those slots, the conversations have been tearful,” LeBlanc said.

In upstate New York, Mike Cavotta’s son A.J. is heading to SNHU next year. Mike and his wife Karen are both high school teachers, who supplement their income by doing side jobs and renting their house in the tourist town of Saratoga Springs.

“We were living in a camper at one point for weeks to help pay for college because we live next to the Saratoga racetrack,” Cavotta said. “That's gone this year.”

Cavotta expects the virus will diminish their income by about 20 percent. With one of his two daughters already in college, Cavotta said he was worried about paying his son’s tuition.

“We were going to have to take out some student loans,” he said.

Then, SNHU slashed its price.

“I actually felt guilty that I had such a great attitude during this pandemic. It was the best news that we have received in a long time,” Cavotta said. “Every day we're looking at the numbers of the cases, we're looking at the unfortunate deaths and the impact, and then this news would have made Christmas Day second.”

WGBH News intern Mackenzie Farkus contributed to this report.