In-state undergraduate tuition is going up this fall and next by 2% on Penn State University’s main campus, but will be frozen for Pennsylvania undergraduates both years on branch campuses statewide.
University trustees, meeting Friday at Penn State Behrend in Erie, locked in 2023-24 and 2024-25 tuition schedules for the university’s 88,000 students as part of operating budgets approved for both years.
The board’s vote was split, and trustee Edward “Ted” Brown III said that had Penn State managed to reverse even a small part of steep enrollment losses on branch campuses since 2010, an in-state tuition increase could have been avoided.
Friday’s vote raises the lower-division yearly rate at University Park, currently $19,286, to $19,672 for Pennsylvania residents this fall. Juniors and seniors pay higher rates that vary by major.
In-state undergraduate rates on the branches range from $13,966 to $15,904 and will not change.
Non-Pennsylvania undergraduates on the branch campuses and at University Park will see increases of 1% and 4%, respectively, both years. World Campus tuition will increase by 1%
Administrators argue the new rates are reasonable for an institution that already is cutting tens of millions of dollars in operating expenses to balance its budget and receives less state aid per student than any other public university in Pennsylvania.
But some on the board have differed, asking if more could be done to shield students from higher prices.
Minutes before Friday’s vote, trustee Brown alluded to the steep drop off in branch or Commonwealth campus enrollments — from 33,977 in 2010, to 23,838 this fall.
“We would not need to have a tuition increase for in-state (students) if we filled 1,000 of the 10,000 empty seats at Commonwealth campuses,” Brown said.
Penn State Behrend, he added, is having success reaching students from beyond the state and overseas. That branch and others need assistance from the university, said Brown.
“If we could just help them do a little better — 1,000 students, filling 10,000 seats — it would generate enough revenue to freeze in-state tuition.”
University-wide operating expense budgets of $9.5 billion and $9.6 billion, respectively, were approved by the board Friday under a new, two-year budgeting model intended to improve the process and give students more notice of price changes.
The vote count to approve the operating budgets including the tuition rates for both years was 25 to 5, with one abstention, said Penn State spokesman Wyatt Dubois.
Last year, the university allocated $14 million so students from households making $75,000 or less could not see an increase.
That additional $14 million will become a permanent part of Penn State’s financial aid, said Sara Thorndike, senior vice president for finance and business. However, it will not target only students from those households.
Also during their two days of meetings in Erie, trustees also received a less than optimistic assessment of the standoff over the Commonwealth’s budget for fiscal 2024, which began July 1. It remains up in the air – and with it Penn State’s appropriation.
Penn State’s funding is among the bills that so far do not have votes for passage, said Zack Moore, vice president for Government and Community Relations.
“At this point it’s honestly anyone’s guess as to when the state budget will be completed. It’s very possible at this point that we would be looking at the end of September or early October for the state budget to be completed,” he said.
In March, Gov. Josh Shapiro included a 7.1% increase in funding for the four state-related universities, including Penn State. That would amount to $287.9 million for general support and for the College of Technology.
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.