State System of Higher Education administrators plan to recommend Thursday that the system’s governing board freeze tuition for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year across Pennsylvania’s 10 state-owned universities.
The board of governors is expected to vote on the proposal at its quarterly meeting in Harrisburg.
An affirmative vote would keep the yearly in-state rate at $7,716 for the 2023-24 academic year, as it has been since 2018-19. About 85,000 students are enrolled systemwide, including on the Western Pennsylvania campuses of PennWest University (California, Clarion, Edinboro), Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock University.
The technology fee also would remain unchanged at $478, under the recommendation.
The meeting’s agenda suggests the stakes for both students and the State System, which like other regional public university systems, has seen sharp enrollment declines. Enrollment across the 10 universities is down from 119,513 in 2010 to 84,556 as of this year, a loss of 29%.
“It is critical to both student success and university success that PASSHE universities control costs and use tuition and institutional aid strategically to keep tuition as low as possible for those with the greatest financial challenges,” material accompanying the tuition proposal states.
Penn State University trustees also have tuition on the agenda Thursday as they begin two days of meetings at Penn State Behrand, Erie. The University of Pittsburgh has not yet scheduled a meeting to discuss 2023-24 tuition but is expected to do so this week or next.
The universities are setting their rates, even as their appropriation remains caught up in a standoff between the state Legislature and Gov. Josh Shapiro over the commonwealth’s fiscal year 2024 budget — now almost three weeks late.
As state-related universities, Penn State and Pitt need a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature each year to secure funding, and thus far they have fallen short.
In recent weeks, a number of Republican lawmakers have said they are unhappy with what they say is unwillingness by Pitt and Penn State to commit to freezing tuition and a general lack of transparency, noting the schools are largely exempt from the state’s Right-to-Know law.
Rep. Eric Nelson, a Hempfield Republican, has suggested that students be funded directly and questioned why Pennsylvania is supporting “our wealthiest institutions” to the potential detriment of the state’s poorest families.
“When we look at our state-related institutions, particularly Pitt, Penn State and Temple, many of our members continue to ask why we should continue to support these educational systems directly when so much has changed and we have both the means and the ability to fund the students themselves and empower families,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster Republican, at a recent news conference.
Officials with Pitt and Penn State counter that the universities use the annual appropriation to provide Pennsylvania residents a tuition rate many thousands of dollars less than what non-residents pay.
“The University of Pittsburgh is disappointed that the legislature hasn’t yet passed the bill that provides about $16,000 in annual tuition savings for nearly 17,000 Pennsylvania students,” Pitt spokesman Jared Stonesifer said in a statement Wednesday. “The Pitt community is watching the situation carefully and is very concerned about the impact of the Legislature’s actions not just on our university, but on the entire state-related system in Pennsylvania.’’
He added, “The 60-year partnership between the commonwealth and our university is being jeopardized by the Legislature’s inaction on providing funds to reduce tuition for Pennsylvania students and their families.”
Pitt and Penn State are among the nation’s highest-priced public universities, with in-state base tuition at $19,760 and $19,286, respectively. They largely blame inadequate public support for higher education relative to other states.
The State System appears to be somewhat better positioned in the budget fight.
Legislation that has passed both governing bodies but has not yet reached the governor would provide a $33 million, or 6%, increase to PASSHE, officials said.
In the last two fiscal years, the state has increased PASSHE funding by $108 million, or nearly 23%.
In his proposed commonwealth budget, Shapiro is requesting a 7.1% increase for the state-related universities. Pitt would receive $165.8 million in general support including rural education outreach, Penn State would get $287.9 million for general support and for the College of Technology.