Pennsylvania's state-owned universities today waded more deeply into "pricing flexibility," an experiment supporters say helps campuses better align tuition and fees with market conditions, but opponents say makes the schools less affordable.
The State System of Higher Education's board of governors, meeting this morning in Harrisburg, voted to adopt four of the pricing pilot programs at California University of Pennsylvania, and Edinboro, Mansfield and Shippensburg universities.
The requests approved, effective next fall, include:
■ A request by Cal U to lift a cap on the per-credit academic support fee, meaning that even students considered full-time with at least 12 credits would continue to be charged at a rate of $31.30-per-credit for in-state residents and $46.90 for out-of-state residents;
■ A request by Edinboro to charge an additional $30-per-credit for students enrolled in high-demand, high cost science, technology, engineering and math and health courses, except for courses required for nursing students, who already pay a higher fee;
■ A request by Mansfield to begin charging all undergraduate students tuition on a per-credit basis, and freezing that rate for eight consecutive fall and spring semesters for students currently enrolled;
■ A request by Shippensburg to replace the flat full-time tuition rate for in-state undergraduate students with a per-credit charge, phasing the full per-credit price in over four years.
The four pilot programs are projected by the universities to generate roughly $9 million collectively in additional revenue and are among nearly two dozen pilot programs that the board has approved this year and last.
Some have lowered rates to attract groups such as military veterans and out-of-state students -- seen as key to building enrollments -- or others studying at specific locations. Others, like the four today, involve higher prices.
At today's meeting, Ken Mash, a professor and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, told the board it should require more data from existing pilots before expanding programs that are adding to the financial burden already facing students.
He told the board that whether or not it chooses to call them "pilots" doesn't matter. "What we're talking about are tuition and fee increases," he said.
A majority of board members and State System Chancellor Frank Brogran have said the pilot programs allow schools the price flexibility they need to deal with rising costs and enrollment pressures.
The State System's board of governors sets a flat tuition rate and a technology fee for the 14-member universities, which in Western Pennsylvania includes California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities.
Individual campuses set additional fees, and the price flexibility pilots give those schools an even greater say in what students on their campuses pay to attend.
About 109,000 students attend State System schools.
Also today, the board set its state appropriation request for 2016-17 at $521.2 million. State System officials said they could not say with certainty what the percentage increase is being sought because their appropriation for this year, which was due July 1, is still not approved.
The board also approved offering schools up to $200 million in cash advances as needed to help pay bills if the Commonwealth budget deadlock continues deeper into the school year.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.
First Published October 8, 2015 9:55 AM