For the 85,000 students attending a Pennsylvania state-owned university who have hoped for relief from rising prices, the news is official.
Tuition will remain unchanged for the 2023-24 academic year, now that the State System of Higher Education approved a fifth consecutive tuition freeze across the 10 institutions.
By a unanimous vote Thursday morning, the system’s board of governors meeting in Harrisburg agreed to keep the yearly base in-state tuition at $7,716, as it has been since 2018-19. The technology fee will remain at $478.
Meanwhile, a Penn State University trustees finance committee on Thursday afternoon unveiled and endorsed a plan to freeze 2023-24 and 2024-25 undergraduate tuition for in-state students across Penn State’s branch campuses, and to raise tuition by 2% both those years for Pennsylvania residents on the University Park campus.
Non-Pennsylvania undergraduates on the branch campuses and at University Park would see increases of 1% and 4%, respectively, both years, under the proposed rates that require a vote by the full board, which will meet Friday at Penn State Behrend in Erie.
The base yearly in-state tuition is $19,286 at University Park and would increase by $386. Rates on the branch campuses are several thousand dollars less and would vary by campus. This will be the fourth and fifth time since 2018 that commonwealth campuses have seen no in-state increase.
Penn State has instituted a two-year budgeting model it said would improve the process and give students a better idea of future costs.
“I hope the message that’s received is that access and affordability is very much a priority to us, even despite the fact we are the lowest per student in funding from the state, and the fact that we are still trying to balance the budget,” said Sara Thorndike, Penn State senior vice president for finance and business.
In Harrisburg, State System officials, including Chancellor Daniel Greenstein, have said holding the price level yet again is a key part of the 40-year-old university system’s effort to rebound from a 29% enrollment drop and strengthen the universities’ financial health.
Had prices kept pace with inflation since 2018, tuition would be 21% higher than it will be this fall across the system, including PennWest University (California, Clarion, Edinboro), Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock University in Western Pennsylvania.
“The State System is incredibly appreciative to the General Assembly and Governor Shapiro for their continued strong investment in PASSHE students and the state-owned, public universities that serve them,” said state system board chair Cynthia Shapira. “PASSHE was created to benefit Pennsylvania, and funding from the state is a lifeline for our students to have access to higher education.”
The vote does not include room, board and other fees that are set at each of the universities and account for the majority of total attendance costs. Individual campuses have made a push to rein in those costs.
The State System tuition vote Thursday came even as the Legislature and Gov. Josh Shapiro remain mired in a fight over a commonwealth budget for fiscal year 2024, now three weeks late.
The 10 universities, despite the standoff, appear headed for a significant funding increase. Legislation that has passed both governing bodies but has not yet reached the governor would provide a $33 million, or 6%, increase to the state system, officials said. Greenstein called it a tremendous boost.
In the past two fiscal years, the state has increased system funding by $108 million, or nearly 23%.
“We are extremely appreciative of the funding we will get, hopefully shortly,” agreed Ken Mash, president of the 5,000-member Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
During Thursday’s meeting, Greenstein addressed last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the use of race in admission decisions.
Greenstein said that, in fact, affirmative action was a tool used nationally and in Pennsylvania by more selective institutions to promote diversity. He said it is not a part of the admission decision process at state-owned universities.
“We are, according to the Carnegie Classification, less selective. Some of us are almost open access institutions and that is a privilege,” he said.
“There may be members of our community who feel as a result of the decision — and this is not about the decision, I’m not debating the merits — who may feel somehow that they are not welcome in higher education.”
He said that was wrong.
“We welcome everybody,” Greenstein said. “Our mission is to serve Pennsylvanians.”
In addition to the Western Pennsylvania campuses, the State System includes Cheyney, Commonwealth University (Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, Mansfield), East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester.