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Pitt tuition up an average of 3.3 percent for 2014-15

| Friday, July 18, 2014, 9:09 a.m.

Students at the University of Pittsburgh's Oakland campus will have a 3.9 percent increase in tuition this fall under the $1.97 billion budget school trustees approved on Friday.

The increase brings base tuition for Pennsylvania undergraduate students to $16,872 a year, keeping Pitt's tuition the highest among the nation's public universities. Second is Penn State, which bumped base tuition this month 3 percent for incoming freshmen to $16,572.

“Both of us have higher charges than we would like, but that is a function of state funding,” said outgoing Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Nordenberg, who is stepping aside as chancellor on Aug. 1 after nearly two decades, said he worries tuition increases spurred by a 22 percent reduction in state funding four years ago and three successive years of flat funding have shifted an ever-heavier burden to students who must rely on loans.

A study found 42 states have begun to restore cuts they made to universities as a result of the economic downturn. Pennsylvania, which continues to endure budget hurdles, is not among them.

Pitt freshman Katlyn Barthen, 18, of Franklin grimaced when she heard the news of the tuition increase as she walked across campus.

“I guess it's not the best of things. But it really doesn't matter to me because this is Pitt,” she said, adding that she's reconciled to taking out loans to get a Pitt education.

Others share that sentiment.

Pitt officials said the university set a record for applications this year. To date, 30,600 students have applied for 3,900 spots in the freshman class at the Oakland school.

Nordenberg said the increase has occurred despite a shrinking pool of high school graduates.

Pitt Provost Patricia Beeson said the university's regional campuses in Greensburg, Johnstown, Bradford and Titusville have experienced an uptick in applications this year.

Smaller tuition increases this fall at the branch campuses bring the average increase to 3.3 percent university-wide.

Despite reductions in state subsidies, Standard & Poor's rating agency gave Pitt its stamp of financial approval in June, raising the university's bond rating to AA+, a notch higher than the AA rating the agency gave the state.

Katherine Moakes, 21, of suburban Philadelphia and a student at the Oakland campus, said the tuition increase of $632 for the year will be tough, but she'll make it with help from her parents and loans for living costs. She worries about classmates who are trying to make ends meet on their own.

“I've seen how hard it is for people who are paying for everything themselves. They are always struggling to pay their bills, work and go to class,” said Moakes, a senior who is majoring in environmental science.

Pitt's Chief Financial Officer Arthur Ramicone said the school will tap its reserves to increase financial aid to students by the same rate as the overall tuition rate increase. That will bring university aid to students to about $168 million in 2014-15, he said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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