Individual Pennsylvania schools in State System seeking tuition flexibility

Beset by declining enrollment, universities get creative in trying to attract students

At Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where enrollment is down about 18 percent from 2010, administrators want to start enticing out-of-state undergraduates with a reduced tuition rate nearly equal to what Pennsylvanians pay.

Another school, California University of Pennsylvania, is eyeing price breaks for active duty military personnel who enroll online. Still other campuses including Clarion, East Stroudsburg and West Chester universities want permission to modify what they charge -- all of them facing cost pressures in an increasingly difficult recruiting market.

Their requests will be weighed today and Thursday as the State System of Higher Education's governing board decides if Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities should have flexibility to alter tuition-related charges up or down based on student demand and what it costs to deliver instruction in some majors.

Administrators across the 112,000-student system say they want leeway similar to what competing campuses in Pennsylvania and elsewhere already have.

The idea has gained momentum of late with state funding to the schools down 18 percent from a few years ago, and with systemwide enrollment since 2010 off by 6 percent -- and by double digits at six of those 14 universities.

"As students provide a larger share of each university's revenue today, pricing flexibility is becoming a more important tool," states material being presented to the system's board of governors, which meets in committee this afternoon in Harrisburg and as a full body Thursday morning.

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The six pilot price programs up for a vote are among nine created to date.

Chancellor Frank Brogan has said that with board approval, the modified rates could be in effect this fall.

Edinboro is within about 20 miles of the New York and Ohio borders, but officials say they lose sizable numbers of prospects in those states who are turned off by the current yearly tuition of $9,633, which is 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate of $6,622. That is the best rate that non-residents can be charged under State System rules, say Edinboro officials, but it is still roughly $5,000 more than what New Yorkers and Ohioans pay in their own states.

The Edinboro proposal would eliminate more than half of that gap by cutting the rate to 105 percent of the in-state Pennsylvania tuition, or $6,953 a year.

"This is really important to us because the majority of our out-of-state students are from Ohio and New York," said Edinboro president Julie Wollman. "This allows us to be competitive."

The 7,100-student university, which had 171 out-of-state freshmen last fall, projects the lower price renewable for up to five years for newly enrolled students would produce more than the 71 additional students needed to break even.

Historically, the Pennsylvania Legislature has frowned on price breaks for non-resident students. But Ms. Wollman said Edinboro has seats that otherwise would be empty.

"We have classes that aren't full. We have majors that aren't full," she said.

"There is no additional cost, so it's not taking away from funds that we receive from the state," she added. "It's leveraging those funds and maximizing the value for our in-state students."

At Cal U, meanwhile, active military personnel, their spouses and dependents would see tuition in Cal U's Global Online Program cut from $276 per credit to $250, equal to the Military Tuition Assistance maximum reimbursement rate. They would pay a graduate tuition rate of $399, or 90-percent of the in-state graduate rate.

Cal U officials project that the lower rate would reduce revenue by $15,000 but also yield a 10 percent enrollment increase and therefore a 5 percent net revenue gain over the two-year pilot program's life.

Also, Edinboro and East Stroudsburg are asking to create an instructional fee equivalent to 25 percent of tuition for students in its nursing program.

Clarion is seeking to create course-specific instructional fees for two of its high-cost, high-demand programs: undergraduate nursing and communication and speech disorders. A fee equal to 10 percent of tuition or $28 per credit would be assessed, and increased by 10 percent annually until the programs are fully supported by state dollars, tuition and fees -- a time projected to be three years in nursing and one to two years in speech.

Also being considered are an East Stroudsburg proposal for a clinical semester fee or a nursing course fee of roughly 25 percent of tuition for students in a bachelors of science in nursing and a proposal from West Chester University for a 10 percent tuition cut for undergraduates and graduates at the State System’s Center City location in Philadelphia.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BSchacknerPG.

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