Penn State

Penn State freezes in-state tuition

And just like that, Penn State’s tuition plans have changed.

If you were a University Park parent planning on a 2.74 percent increase in your sociology major’s bill for the 2015-16 school year, you’ll now be getting a little breathing room.

At the full meeting of the board of trustees on Friday at Penn State Beaver, President Eric Barron pulled a switch from the proposal he laid out Thursday. His report to the board on Friday looked almost identical to the slide show he presented the day before, with the same pictures, same numbers, same remarks.

Right up until the slide that mattered, the one covered in zeros.

Instead of a sliding scale of flat tuition at some campuses, more modest increases at some others, and the highest increase — still lower than last year — at the flagship campus, the final numbers were changed as he unexpectedly announced no spike for every in-state undergraduate.

The board unanimously passed the measure, keeping tuition at $8,286 per semester. The tuition freeze represents the first time in more than 40 years that the price of a Penn State education remained the same from one year to the next.

Tuition for out-of-state students at Commonwealth Campuses could hold steady in some places or rise by as much as 2.4 percent in others. Nonresidents at University Park would see an increase of 2.99 percent.

The change creates a shortfall of $17 million. Barron said he has not yet discussed potential cost-cutting measures with his deans, vice presidents and department heads, making conjecture about where the money would come from premature.

Barron coupled his ongoing goal — keeping a Penn State education accessible for Pennsylvania residents — with the promise he made Thursday: to hold the line on the information technology fee for the first time in 20 years.

Barron addressed the possible impact if state appropriations — uncertain as the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf continue negotiations — were to be higher than the 3 percent planned in the university’s budget. Wolf’s proposal called for an 11 percent increase.

Barron’s other plans include a focus on economic development, an attempt to lower fees and renewed attention to deferred maintenance.

“To fund all the things I just laid out would require an 18-20 percent increase in state appropriation,” Barron told the board. But he said it was worth it for the university to assume “a higher level of risk to achieve a historic moment in tuition modulation.”

Barron said later that he had not yet discussed the freeze with the governor, but said he hopes it shows “a commitment to the educational goals of every part of this commonwealth.”

Wolf’s representative to the board, Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger, thanked Barron on the governor’s behalf.

“It’s a start,” Hanger said, calling it a “very happy day.”

Reaction among trustees was mixed.

“I can’t thank you enough,” said trustee Ted Brown, who has raised the issue of tuition often at meetings.

Trustee Keith Eckel, meanwhile, said he was concerned about the lack of attention to agricultural research and cooperative extension.

At a news conference after the meeting, Barron emphasized the importance of access, affordability and diversity.

“This institution is very proud of our graduation rate. It far exceeds what is predicted based on the economic distribution of our students,” he said. “But if you dig down, you find something you’re not quite so proud of, and that’s that we have a group of students who are working too much, taking smaller credit loads at full price, taking longer to graduate. The most expensive tuition increase you can possibly have is to go another year.”

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