Last Friday the Penn State Board of Trustees announced a tuition increase that one student considered modest given “the difficult circumstances that the university was in.” That increase — $712 for University Park freshmen and sophomores — amounts to a 4.9 percent jump, and it will ensure Penn State’s University Park tuition ($15,124) remains one of the nation’s most expensive for a public university. (Students at the branch campuses were given a slight reprieve, with those schools looking forward to a 2.9 percent tuition hike next year.) Maybe the good news for PSU is that since Pitt raised its tuition 8.5 percent, Penn State may have a challenger at the top of the Department of Education’s new College Costs website.
At the June Board of Governors meeting, the State System raised tuition by $436, which we all agree is substantial. It may not be PSU or Pitt substantial, but it is a large increase for the working families that send their children to our campuses or those who attend themselves.
Still, according to the Department of Education’s website, the average tuition at a four-year public university was $6,397 in 2009-10. Even with the approved increase, the new annual tuition rate for a full-time, resident undergraduate student at one of our schools will be below that figure. Despite the larger-than-desired tuition hike, the State System universities will remain Pennsylvania’s best value for a four-year college education. In fact, our institutions are not just a high-quality, affordable option for Pennsylvania residents; we may be the affordable option for New Jersey residents too!
Even though our budget has struggled to keep pace with inflation (the current state funding is equivalent to the early 2000s in dollars), we have continued to provide quality education. We continue to do more for less.
Yet, how many of our students will be struggling to attend? What impact will the budget cuts have on course offerings, class sizes, and the number of faculty? The Commonwealth’s budgetary decisions will have an effect, and it is our students who most feel the impact when tuition costs rise and their educational opportunities are limited.
Our record of providing a quality, affordable education is reason for pride. We ought to shout it far and near. At the same time, we must continue to remind our governor and our legislators about the impact of their budgetary decisions.