Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Daniel Greenstein speaks at a press conference on Oct. 18, 2022. (Commonwealth Media Services)
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education‘s governing board deferred a vote on tuition for the upcoming school year, allowing for more time to see how the budgetary process plays out in Harrisburg.
On Thursday, the PASSHE Board of Governors postponed a decision about tuition and technology rates for the 2023-24 academic year. A vote on whether to increase costs across the system isn’t expected until July.
The decision comes one month after PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein told lawmakers during appropriations hearings that the 10-university system would freeze in-state tuition for undergraduates for a fifth consecutive year — keeping it at $7,716 annually — if the new state budget included a 3.8% increase in basic education funding and an additional $112 million for student support.
Without additional state funding, Greenstein said tuition at State System schools would increase “considerably,” estimating that operating the system costs $700 million annually.
“We are committed to keeping tuition as low as possible, have every desire to freeze tuition, and will continue working with state leaders to secure investment in students at state-owned public universities,” Board of Governors Chairperson Cynthia Shapira said on Thursday.
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s spending proposal includes a 2% increase for PASSHE.
The requested state funding package, Greenstein said, would help maintain affordability at State System schools and address worker shortages by enrolling and graduating career-ready students, who are predominantly from Pennsylvania.
“State System universities offer degrees for the most in-demand careers at the lowest cost for students and provide the best return on investment for the state,” Greenstein said. “Our universities are the most cost-efficient way to tackle shortages of teachers, nurses, STEM, and social services professionals, and the need for more business and community leaders.”
The cost of tuition is determined based on state funding levels, and State System officials worry that raising rates will prevent students — mostly those from low and middle-income households — from getting a college education. They also fear that higher tuition will result in more in-state students leaving Pennsylvania to get graduate degrees elsewhere.
“I want to stay here, and I can’t do that if tuition is raised at PASSHE, and if there are cheaper options elsewhere,” Abigail Hancox, a Indiana University of Pennsylvania student who serves on the board, said. “So what we want is to stay in the state of Pennsylvania, truly, and continue seeking our education.”
Greenstein, who became chancellor in 2018, has overseen a controversial consolidation that merged six State System campuses into two regional schools. Advocating for the consolidation, Greenstein cited lagging enrollment numbers and growing costs.
In addition to maintaining a tuition freeze, the consolidation has allowed PASSHE to cut $300 million in operating costs over three years, he said.
Other Board of Governors members — including lawmakers — voiced support for deferring the vote until after the Legislature passes and Shapiro signs a finalized state budget. They also encouraged members to advocate, not wait until July 1 to see if the budget includes additional funding.
“If you follow what other advocacy groups do, they don’t just wait for something to happen,” Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said. “We have to be vocal to the right people.”
On Wednesday, Senate GOP leadership urged State System officials to maintain current tuition rates, saying an increase “would make higher education less accessible to students and directly contradict PASSHE’s mission of providing a quality education at an affordable price.”
“We firmly believe PASSHE universities cannot raise tuition and then expect to also receive increased state support,” Senate Republican leaders said in a joint statement. “Investing in higher educational opportunities will help to prepare the next generation to meet our workforce needs, and we are committed to working together to adequately address the financial concerns of our higher education institutions.”
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