Pennsylvania House passes state-related university funding and requires schools to freeze tuition

Penn State and Temple officials said they could not agree to keep student costs at this year’s levels

By: - October 31, 2023 4:42 pm

The University of Pittsburgh (Photo via Pittsburgh City Paper)

Tuition would remain unchanged for the next academic year at Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities under a provision of a state funding bill passed in the state House on Tuesday.

Republican and Democratic leaders both claimed a victory for Pennsylvania students after passing a bill to release more than $640 million for the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities that has been stalled since June.

The bill passed with a 145-57 vote after the House unanimously approved a Republican amendment requiring the universities to freeze tuition for the 2024-25 school year at this year’s levels. It now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

“We can’t tell our young people that they should go to our institutions of higher education, particularly our institutions here in Pennsylvania, and then make it unobtainable because it is unaffordable for them,” House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) told reporters. 

Democrats, who control the House, had been unable to muster the two-thirds majority of the 203-member chamber needed to approve the spending, which is required because of the quasi-public nature of the universities. 

Republican leaders, exercising one of the few levers of power available to the minority party in the House, withheld support for the funding citing concerns about rising tuition costs and transparency at the schools, which are not covered by certain provisions of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. 

The funding bill failed twice on final consideration in June and July. The second time the vote was just six shy of the 135 required.

How Pennsylvania’s budget impasse has affected tuition rates at state-related universities

On Monday, the House passed legislation by state Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York) that would provide greater public access to university personnel salary information and require budgetary and contract information to be made available in a searchable online database.

“The days of blank checks to these universities must come to an end and passing this legislation with a tuition freeze is good policy for our students and their families,” House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said after the vote Tuesday.

Cutler added that the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education held tuition flat for four years and is on track to do so again for the fifth year. It has done so while carrying out a range of reforms from consolidating the administrative functions of several campuses and redesigning course offering to better match employer needs, he noted.

Anticipating a question about why Republicans didn’t pass reform legislation when they held the majority in the House, Cutler said the transparency bill is the culmination of several years of work to ensure that state funding is used only as intended to discount tuition for Pennsylvania residents. 

In a statement, Penn State officials said they have already frozen tuition this year and for the 2024-25 school year at its branch campuses.

“While we appreciate the Pennsylvania House approving increased funding for Penn State for the current fiscal year, we simply cannot support the amendment adopted by the House,” the statement reads, adding the freeze would undermine the board of trustees’ authority and amount to a $54 million cut.

It said increases at the main University Park Campus and for graduate programs have been modest and that the appropriation approved this year is still less than what Penn State received in 2010-11, even without adjusting for inflation.

“Our elected officials cannot expect Penn State to offer a world-class education to our students while providing state funding near the lowest level in the nation,” the statement reads. 

Temple University officials said in a statement that maintaining tuition at current levels while faced with rising costs and decreasing enrollment would be “incredibly difficult” and that agreeing to a freeze a year in advance would not be responsible.

Pitt’s funding has long been targeted by GOP lawmakers who oppose the use of fetal tissue cell lines for research, and this spring the conservative Freedom Party Caucus threatened to hold up Penn State’s funding, citing Penn State Health’s treatment of transgender children.

The universities have stated that the state appropriations are used exclusively for tuition aid.


As the funding remained bottled up into the fall, Democratic lawmakers were critical of their Republican counterparts for keeping students in limbo over “culture war” issues. 

As recently as Monday during a question-and-answer session at a Pennsylvania Press Club lunch, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) gave little indication that an end to the impasse was in sight. 

Bradford said hope for passing the funding as in years past had been exhausted and that Democrats had moved on to pass legislation that would award the money as grants to avoid the two-thirds majority requirement.

“The Senate either needs to reciprocate and send something or frankly the House Republicans need to get to a better place,” Bradford told reporters.

After the original funding bill passed on Tuesday, Bradford dodged questions about dealmaking and claimed the passage of Klunk’s transparency bill was unrelated to the Republican for the funding bill. He suggested the upcoming Nov. 7 election might have influenced some to change their votes.

“I think people realize that continuing to hold this up based on abortion, politics, social issues, is just bad politics,” Bradford said. 

Capital-Star reporter John Cole contributed to this report.


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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.