Pennsylvania State System tuitions may differ depending on major

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Pennsylvanians seeking degrees at one of the 14 state-owned universities long have paid the same undergraduate tuition no matter if their major is in English or biology or physics.

But the State System of Higher Education, whose board of governors met Thursday, may give universities flexibility to begin charging different rates depending on such factors as how much it costs to deliver instruction in those disciplines.

The topic will be taken up by a board-approved task force created in light of financial pressures facing the system. It is expected to re-examine price policies and how state appropriations are allocated to the system's member universities.

Chancellor Frank Brogan told board members he supports pricing by program if universities make a strong case, and that if a school came forward in time, it might make sense to do a pilot program next fall.

But he also urged careful study to avoid unintended consequences on students or programs.

The $6,622 in-state tuition price set by the system's board is only a fraction of total yearly attendance costs at the schools that include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities. Some students and parents have complained about rapidly rising fees to support dorms, student centers and other campus endeavors.

In fact, between 2001 and 2011, the system board kept collective tuition increases to a combined 53 percent, but fees and room-and-board rates set largely by individual campuses rose by 117 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during those years.

Total attendance costs last year ranged by campus from $19,138 to $14,687.

"Everything is going to be on the table for discussion," system spokesman Kenn Marshall said of the task force.

However, he was unsure if it has authority to review campus-based fee policies.

Pricing by program and by campus is used by a number of other universities in Pennsylvania. Mr. Marshall said system students from outside Pennsylvania already pay differing rates.

Also Thursday, the board voted to seek a 2014-15 state appropriation request of $429.2 million, a 4 percent increase over this year's sum to operate the campuses with 112,500 students. The panel also agreed to seek an $18 million special line item in next year's budget to fund new or expanded academic programs that advance Pennsylvania's workforce and other needs.

Mr. Brogan, saying the climate this year will continue to be difficult for obtaining additional state funding, advocated targeted requests to the Legislature and the governor accompanied by statements of both need and expected outcomes.

He characterized it as a desirable alternative to "just saying, 'How about some more money?' "

The appropriation request does not specify a potential tuition increase for next fall, though administrators have discussed tying it in some way to the consumer price index, which of late is approximately 3 percent, Mr. Marshall said.

education - breaking - state

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977. Twitter: @BschacknerPG First Published October 16, 2013 8:39 PM


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