State universities chief promises tuition freeze if he receives $550 million in governor’s budget

Students attending the future 10 public universities would be spared a tuition hike next year if the historic level of funding Governor Tom Wolf proposed for the state’s higher education system in his 2022 budget -23 materializes.

State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein told members of the ” target=”_blank”>State House Appropriations and Education Committees On Wednesday, the $552 million appropriation — a $75 million increase from this year — the governor is recommending for the system would allow him to freeze tuition for a fourth straight year.

The governor is also proposing a one-time investment of $150 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help fund the system overhaul that began six years ago, while helping to fund other of his priorities.

The in-state two-semester undergraduate tuition rate at a state university is now $7,716. With fees and room and board, the annual cost is approximately $23,000.

During the hearing, Greenstein said the governor’s budget proposal would not be enough to reduce tuition. But he said it would allow universities to increase the amount of money they apply to student financial aid from $30 million to $130 million, which could help some students pay their bills. academics.

Reducing tuition is critical to economic development in the state, where 60 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education, Greenstein said in response to a question from R-Bedford County Rep. Jesse Topper.

“Currently, the lowest cost option for a post-secondary degree is a university in the Pennsylvania state system and it still moves within the $23,000-24 net attendance price range. $000 a year,” Greenstein said.

He added that the total cost of tuition is $6,500 more than the cost of attending a State University of New York school and is the second or third highest in the nation. among comparable public universities.

“We are excluding our people from post-secondary education and by excluding them from post-secondary education, we are effectively denying them the opportunity to participate in the global economy, the 21st century economy in Pennsylvania,” Greenstein said. “Tuition fees are the biggest barrier to enrolment.”

The system that was designed to serve low- and middle-income students has seen declining enrollment for a decade, especially in those income brackets. This year, its number of students has fallen to a low of more than two decades, at less than 89,000. The Chancellor said that demographic changes or employment rates alone do not explain the reason for this decline.

“I keep getting brought back to the cost of tuition,” Greenstein said.

Consistent with Greenstein’s testimony, D-Montgomery County Rep. Joe Webster responded, “I would risk making the political statement if we vote against this budget, we vote for a tuition increase.”

Other topics discussed during the conversation with the two committees include the impending sale of the system’s Harrisburg headquarters to the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg.

Regarding the sale of the Dixon University Center, Greenstein said he had already left his office and was now working in his daughter’s bedroom.

“We expect the contract to be signed and the building sold within the next six weeks,” he said.

R-Venango County Rep. Lee James asked where the system’s offices will operate after the sale is complete. Greenstein said the system has leased office space in Susquehanna Township that can accommodate its needs until the lease expires. Most of the time, he said, employees in the chancellor’s office are working remotely.

Much of the conversation during the hearing focused on consolidating the universities of California, Clarion and Edinboro into one institution named Pennsylvania Western University and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield into another. These consolidated universities are scheduled to open this fall and will reduce the number of state universities from 14 to 10. However, no campuses are closed.

The Chancellor said he expects to get a response from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education regarding the requested accreditation of these newly established universities by the end of March and beginning of April.

As for the NCAA’s approval to allow each of the six schools that make up the two consolidated universities to continue to run their separate athletic programs as planned, Greenstein said he expects that word to come after the decision. accreditation.

Responding to further questions about consolidations, Greenstein said it hasn’t hurt fundraising and the number of applications he’s seeing at this point in the admissions cycle seems to be “good,” but said he would know more later in the spring.

As for finances, he said, with the help of the proposed increase in state funding and savings to be made by combining campus back-office operations such as human resources and information technology, Greenstein said the Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield consortium will be operating in the black by next year; the Western University Cluster will be closer to reaching that point in three years.

A testy exchange occurred during questioning of D-Lehigh County Rep. Peter Schweyer, who criticized college clusters. He said the chancellor had said the move would lead to more opportunities for students, but now he hears about majors being cut.

“How are you going to increase your enrollment by providing fewer opportunities for our students?” Schweyer asked.

Greenstein said curricular cuts should have happened even if the university consolidations had not taken place, because universities could no longer afford to retain their full range of courses. Consolidation is a way to preserve more of those programs that would otherwise have disappeared, he said.

However, he added, if the General Assembly preferred that each of the state universities offer a full range of liberal arts, science and applied courses, “please give us that direction and of course the envelope funding to follow”.

House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Stan Saylor of R-York County defended the system’s decision to consolidate universities. He said he believed it was the way to save the system plagued by financial and registration difficulties.

“If they want to kill the system, keep fighting,” Saylor said. “It’s the only solution. … I want to congratulate you again for helping to move our system and saving our system for low-income families and middle-class families, because if we don’t , these children, these parents are going to suffer tremendously, and so will our Commonwealth.”

Besides the six universities that are part of the consolidations, other universities in the system include Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester.

Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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