State universities may face more fee scrutiny from State System administrators

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Pennsylvania state-owned university students fed up with ever-rising fees from the classroom to the student center to their campus meal plans may actually have cause for some optimism.

That’s because the State System of Higher Education’s new chancellor, Frank Brogan, says a price review planned across those schools will include not just tuition-related charges but also fees, including those traditionally decided by individual campuses.

He made the comment to reporters Wednesday during an appearance at California University of Pennsylvania, where he addressed an audience of students and employees.

The chancellor, a month into the job, stopped short of predicting the system’s Board of Governors would try to adopt a practice of forbidding campus-based increases with which it disagrees. But, he said, “The system, I believe, is going to begin to exert more control.”

The 14 universities with 112,500 students are the least expensive part of Pennsylvania’s public university system, but Mr. Brogan acknowledged the affordability gap between them and their competitors has narrowed. That has implications for the schools, which are seeing enrollment declines and a more competitive admissions market for reasons including a decline in high school graduates.

“We have begun to bump up against the tuition cap of marketability,” he told his audience of nearly 200 inside Steele Hall.

“It’s not just the tuition that will damage your ability to be a player in the market,” he said. “It is the full cost of instruction, and that includes tuition and fees.”

In fact, a March report from Maguire Associates commissioned by the State System pointed to slippage in the ranks of returning students and said “increases in tuition and fees assessed during the fall 2012 semester may have contributed” to that loss.

The $6,622 in-state tuition price set by the system’s board is only a fraction of the total cost to attend system schools. In Western Pennsylvania, the schools include Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities as well as Cal U.

Between 2001-11, the system held tuition increases to a combined 53 percent, but fees and room and board rates largely set by individual campuses jumped by 117 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during those years.

Total attendance costs across the system ranged from $19,138 to $14,687, according to 2012-13 data, the most current available for comparative purposes.

As he has in past appearances, Mr. Brogan praised the unique identities of the member universities but also advocated a more systemwide approach to the delivery of some instruction. He cited as examples a more systemwide approach to online education and the delivery of general education classes across the system.

During his appearance, Mr. Brogan said there are no immediate plans to launch a presidential search at California and he praised the performance of interim president Geraldine Jones, who has been in office since the system board’s May 2012 firing of Angelo Armenti Jr.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977.

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