Universities plan no immediate tuition increases despite state budget stalemate
February 13, 2016 12:00 AM
Marc Levy/Associated Press
Penn State President Eric Barron has said he wants to freeze tuition again in 2016-17, provided the state restores deep budget cuts from several years back, and at the moment prospects for that appear to be murky at best.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Endeavors ranging from protecting the state’s poultry industry to guarding against the Avian flu are being impeded by the budget stalemate in Harrisburg that has left Penn State University to date with no appropriation, school officials say.
But one item not in jeopardy — at least for this year — is the the tuition freeze that Penn State trustees agreed to back in July for the 2015-16 academic year.
“There has been no discussion of rescinding any agreement mid-year and we would not retroactively raise tuition for 2015-16,'” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said this week after Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his proposed state budget for 2016-17.
That said, Penn State President Eric Barron has said he wants to freeze tuition again in 2016-17, provided the state restores deep budget cuts from several years back, and at the moment prospects for that appear to be murky at best.
Penn State, which has 97,000 students, says it’s time for Republicans in the Legislature and the Democratic governor to end their dispute and finish the as-yet-incomplete 2015-16 state budget.
In her statement, Ms. Powers noted the 5 percent increase it stands to receive if Gov. Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 budget is approved.
“We are pleased that Gov. Wolf continues to acknowledge the importance of investing in Penn State,” she said. "Our focus, however, remains on coping with the lingering current year budget stalemate and our concerns for the future of Pennsylvania higher education and Agricultural Extension.
"To that end, we urge all parties to complete their work on the 2015-16 Commonwealth budget," she said. "Failure to fund agriculture alone could cause harm that takes years to reverse, by impeding our work to protect the state's poultry industry from the threat of avian flu, for example."
Last summer, with Gov. Wolf proposing big increases in education funding, Penn State trustees agreed to the 2015-16 tuition freeze. It kept base yearly tuition at $16,572.
But as the stalemate has dragged on, budgetary pressure on Penn State and other schools has grown. In a blog post last month, Mr. Barron discussed the gravity of the stalemate and its impact on Penn State in areas from agriculture to medicine to planned construction.
Gov. Wolf also has proposed 5 percent increases for the three other state-related universities, the University of Pittsburgh and Temple and Lincoln universities. But those, like the one proposed for Penn State, to an extent are theoretical, because none of the state-related universities so far has received any appropriation from the state this year.
Pitt, the largest university in Western Pennsylvania, said it has no plans for a mid-year tuition increase. Base tuition there stands at $17,292, following an increase of roughly 2 percent, the smallest in 40 years.
The 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education at least have an appropriation since they have a standing line in the state budget. The amount is $412.8 million for the fourth consecutive year, though Mr. Wolf has sought 5 percent increases, both in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The State System board in July raised base yearly tuition by 3.5 percent to $7,060 for the current academic year and has no plans to alter that mid-year, spokesman Kenn Marshall said.
The 14 schools include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.
A spending plan for 2015-16 that went to the governor from the Republican-controlled Assembly included a 5 percent increase for the State System, the state-related schools and for community colleges. The governor vetoed the 5 percent increase for the State System and for community colleges, as well as any appropriation for the state-related schools, saying Republicans did not have enough revenue to balance their spending plan.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.
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