Public Pennsylvania colleges' tuition up nearly 3%
Pennsylvania's state-related and state-owned universities appear on track to hold tuition increases to about 3 percent for the third year in a row.
Trustees at Penn State and the Board of Governors for Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities adopted tuition increases for the 2014-15 year in that range. University of Pittsburgh and Temple University trustees are expected to adopt similar increases when they meet this week.
Like public universities and colleges across the nation, the Pennsylvania institutions were forced to adjust when the state reduced funding for higher education following the economic downturn. During the past five years, cumulative tuition increases at the schools ranged from 18 to 22 percent.
The Pennsylvania schools kept annual tuition increases to 3 percent in recent years, even though state lawmakers reduced subsidies to the schools 18 to 22 percent four years ago and have yet to restore any of those cuts.
“Some schools have found remarkably that if they work hard they can get by with less,” said Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who focuses on higher education funding issues.
Even so, many schools across the country increasingly look to families to shoulder more of the burden. According to the College Board, public universities and colleges nationwide boosted tuition by 28 percent since 2008 as they struggled with increasing costs and declining state support.
Unlike Pennsylvania, many states are beginning to increase subsidies. A 2014 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 42 states began to restore some of the cuts they made to colleges and universities last year.
Pennsylvania was among eight states where researchers said state spending per student declined last year when adjusted for inflation. Other states where that was the case were Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming.
In Pennsylvania, university officials say they've scoured for economies in operations as they struggled to deal with rising costs and state subsidies that in some instances are now at 1995 dollar levels.
Pitt, Penn State and Temple all have offered voluntary early retirement programs, while State System of Higher Education universities reduced staffing and eliminated scores of classes with low enrollment.
State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said the 3 percent tuition increase the System Board of Governors adopted last week leaves a $30 million hole in the $1.6 billion operating budget for the system that includes California, Clarion, Cheney, Bloomsburg, Edinboro, Shippensburg, Kutztown, East Stroudsburg, Mansfield, Indiana, Lock Haven, Millersville, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.
Marshall said it will be up to individual universities, which enrolled about 112,000 students last year, to trim their spending. He predicted the schools will review staffing, maintenance and equipment purchases.
Fulltime in-state students at the schools will pay $198 more next year when base tuition increases to $6,820. Although costs vary slightly from school to school, officials estimate the total cost of a year including tuition, fees and room and board for in-state students will increase from about $18,000 to about $18,500.
At Penn State, where trustees increased tuition at University Park by 3 percent, the annual base tuition for in-state freshmen will increase $482 to $16,572 in 2014-15.
For the second year in a row, trustees opted for smaller tuition increases at branch campuses.
Base tuition at the Berks, Erie, Harrisburg and Altoona campuses will increase to $13,658 this fall, while tuition at the Beaver, DuBois, Fayette, Greater Allegheny, Mont Alto, New Kensington and Wilkes-Barre campuses will increase to $12,718, and tuition at the Shenango campus will stay frozen at $12,474.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. she can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.