State's graduate tuition changes

Board gives local campuses flexibility

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The board overseeing Pennsylvania's 14 state universities on Thursday amended its pricing policies, replacing tuition for full-time graduate students with a per-credit system and granting campuses new flexibility in what they charge out-of-state students and distance learners.

The State System of Higher Education's board of governors also voted to let State System Chancellor John C. Cavanaugh and university presidents establish alternative pricing on individual campuses covering winter and summer sessions.

The move is intended to let those schools "be entrepreneurial in developing summer/winter packages," according to the board's meeting agenda.

State System officials and administrators on some campuses contacted following the vote said they could not make specific predictions on how the revised policies will affect enrollment patterns on individual campuses.

"It's really premature for us to discuss it," said John Kilmarx, associate vice president for academic administration at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "There are thousands of implementation questions."

Revisions to the State System's tuition and fee policies, in place since 1999, have been under discussion by a task force since late 2009. The vote itself comes as the schools wrestle with increasingly tough financial challenges tied to the economy, declining state aid and expected loss this year of $38 million in federal stimulus aid that has propped up campus budgets.

The 14 schools include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

"Changing fiscal realities have resulted in [the State System] becoming far more tuition-dependent than was the case even a decade ago," stated material that accompanied the price policy resolution.

Just the same, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said Thursday that he knew of no overall intent for the changes to result in more tuition revenue.

He said the changes, which take effect this fall, are more about giving schools flexibility to adapt to changing student markets in their parts of the state. He said a per-credit graduate system mirrors what many other universities already do.

"Could it bring in more revenue? It might. But I don't think we're planning on that right now," he said.

It all depends on "what the universities may come forward with" in the area of price decisions as they review the policy changes.

Though the board of governors sets systemwide tuition and technology fees, the 14 campuses have authority over all other student fees.

Of the State System's total enrollment of 119,500 students, approximately 16,500 are enrolled in graduate programs, including about 6,200 attending full time. Approximately 10 percent of the system's total enrollment comes from outside Pennsylvania, with the share on individual campuses ranging from roughly 4 to 20 percent, Mr. Marshall said.

The State System, based on federal standards, considers graduate students with at least nine credits to be full time, and this year charges a base in-state rate of $6,966 a year. The per-credit rate currently is $387.

Mr. Marshall said most full-time graduate students take between nine and 12 credits per semester, and he said the only ones likely to pay higher tuition under the change are those who both carry more than nine credits and do not have a campus assistantship, which comes with a tuition waiver.

The State System's biggest price policy change regarding out-of-state students applies to undergraduates, Mr. Marshall said.

Under the change, schools would be required to charge 150 percent of in-state tuition, unless they seek permission to charge more. And the 250 percent cap is removed. Schools can now eliminate some campus fees currently charged to distance learners.

Also Thursday, the board approved changes to the State System's performance funding to emphasize student success, student access and stewardship of public resources.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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