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The March 2 Board of Governors meeting streamed via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.

Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, university presidents and guests,

I appreciate the opportunity to provide remarks on behalf of APSCUF. Before I begin, I must tell you that the remarks that I am giving today were painful to construct and will be difficult to deliver. However, I need to speak out on behalf of my colleagues at IUP and other universities that chose to implement a per-credit-tuition model.

On Feb. 8, Gov. Tom Wolf gave his budget address, and we were pleased to learn of his proposal to increase funding for the State System and our students. All of us here today know that our universities have not received adequate funding: Pennsylvania currently ranks 46th in the nation for funding for public higher education. Unfortunately, this is not new, and universities have opted for various “fixes” for the lack of funding.

In March 2016, then-Chancellor Frank Brogan appeared before the House appropriation committee to discuss the need for funding for the State System. During that hearing, he spoke about the per-credit-tuition model that had been piloted at Millersville University.

According to a PennLive article,

Brogan stated that while Millersville was the first system university to move to that cost-per-credit tuition model, it won’t be the last.

He indicated that aside from it charging students only for the courses they take, this model “also has the net effect of having students take a more serious look at how many credits they are taking and the need to graduate on time lest you face the additional cost of … grazing in the vineyard of higher education for a longer period of time.”

In fall 2016, Indiana University of Pennsylvania launched a per-credit-tuition pricing program for undergraduate students who reside in Pennsylvania. This “pilot” went into effect after it was approved by the Board of Governors.

At this time, IUP already had the most expensive housing in the State System, as our former president undertook a $245 million student housing project called the “residential revival.” This project resulted in far too many residence halls that were much more costly for students than traditional dormitories.

In announcing the pilot, President Driscoll remarked that the “per-credit tuition model increases fairness—students pay for the credits that they take,” He went on to say, “Student behaviors have changed, and we need a new and more equitable model to meet the needs of both our current and future students … we want students to complete their degrees in a timely fashion.”

My predecessor, Dr. Kenneth Mash spoke out against these per-credit-tuition plans at a Board of Governors meeting in April 2016. He stated:

One does not have to be a mathematician to do the simple arithmetic — it takes 120 credits minimum to graduate. Over the course of eight semesters, that is 15 credits a semester. Charging per credit means a 16, 25 or even a 50 percent tuition increase for our students. At one time, the Commonwealth subsidized 75 percent of a student’s education. Now it is less than 25 percent. What will it be after these plans? At a time when the issue of student debt is a matter of national debate, our universities will be substantially increasing that debt. How many students will be priced out of their universities?

Rather than preventing students from “grazing in the academic vineyard,” these plans are likely to discourage double majors, push students to drop out, discourage them from taking difficult courses that they may not do well in, and cause them to avoid major disciplines that require additional credits.

I agreed with everything that Dr. Mash stated, and I would add a question: How are these models student-centered?

While Dr. Mash was articulating the concerns of APSCUF at the Board of Governors meeting, those of us on the faculty at IUP were sounding similar warnings and imploring our administration to forgo a per-credit-tuition model. I know — because I was one of them. We asked them to consider that this model would increase the cost for a student taking 15 credits by 25% and those enrolled for 18 credits by 50%. Think about that. We are currently hearing a lot about inflation — the cost of gasoline, the cost of groceries — and all of us notice those increased costs in our pocketbooks. Imagine how our students felt when they learned of a 25% or 50% increase in their tuition.

Dr. Mash was also correct in predicting how our students would respond — and again, I was there, and my colleagues and I knew our students. For the most part, they are first-generation college students from modest backgrounds — unable to absorb a 25–50% increase in tuition. Students in our department chose not to pursue minors or a double major. They chose not to pursue internships that may have helped launch a career, because they were not required. They chose to take courses at community colleges and transfer those credits to IUP. A student in a junior-level class that I was teaching told me that if she was not graduating the following year — when the per-credit model took effect — that she would transfer to another university because she did not believe that she could afford to remain.

The faculty were not clairvoyant in understanding that if IUP cost more than any of the other State System universities, our enrollments would suffer; we could just do simple math. And suffer they did. Between 2016–17 and 2021–22, enrollments dropped by 29% at IUP. By comparison, the enrollment decline at Slippery Rock, one of IUP’s biggest competitors, was 2.4%.

In announcing a dramatic restructuring at IUP in 2020, President Driscoll stated:

Unfortunately, our current financial situation requires that we reduce the number of people we employ. Most of IUP’s revenues come from tuition, and in the last ten years, IUP’s enrollment has fallen by about one-third: from over 15,000 students to just over 10,000. We have not had a similar reduction in the size of our workforce.

Given that statement, it was unsurprising that what followed was retrenchment of faculty and furloughing of staff. In fall 2020, 82 IUP faculty members received retrenchment notices. A massive restructuring of academic affairs occurred, including closing programs, eliminating entire departments, and the dismantling of the college of humanities and social sciences. And I want to emphasize that between 2016 and 2019, before the retrenchment letters were issued, the size of faculty at IUP had decreased by 20%.

A year and a half has passed since those retrenchment and furlough notices were issued. And now, on Feb. 18, 2022, the IUP Council of Trustees announced a plan to reduce tuition for in-state students by 20%. According to the press release, students enrolled for 12–18 credits will pay the same amount of tuition — as they did prior to 2016–17. President Driscoll stated: “As we go forward, it’s time to focus on the core of our strategic plan, student centeredness. We know that financing a university education remains a challenge for many families.” APSCUF agrees with that assessment. We have argued for years that financing a university education is challenging for many families — and that students are taking on massive debt to complete their education.

The narrative at IUP in 2016 was that increasing tuition by charging per credit was done to be fair — that students needed to pay for the credits that they took — but it did not mention the significant tuition costs that would be borne by the students. So, again, how that was a student-centered decision? Conversely, in the most recent press release, the 20% reduction in cost is the focus. What is missing is that IUP first raised tuition by 25%. It is disingenuous to claim that you are reducing costs while ignoring that you first increased them.

Lest you think otherwise, APSCUF is very happy that costs for our students at IUP and other universities will be lowered and that IUP will be returning to the flat-tuition model that was previously in place. We are mindful, however, of the IUP students who paid significantly more to attend that university between 2016 and now — and likely took on additional student debt. We are mindful of the students who “voted with their feet” and chose to not attend IUP because of the costs. And we are mindful of the impact on the faculty, coaches and staff members who lost their jobs because of enrollment declines.

We understand that there are times when leaders must make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances — and the presidents who chose to move to a per-credit-tuition model made those decisions in part because of a lack of funding for our universities. We applaud the decisions to return to the flat-tuition model. My colleagues at IUP and our other universities are anxious to do their part to tell prospective students and parents about how remarkable our universities are and what wonderful educations they will receive at them. Every opportunity to make that education more affordable — through increased funding and reduced tuition — should positively impact future enrollments.