Penn State considers 45 tuition recommendations that could bring in $34 million

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UNIVERSITY PARK -- Citing a need to cut costs and supplement losses from dwindling government funding, Penn State University is considering 45 recommendations to alter its tuition prices that would net the university nearly $34 million in the first year of the plan.

These recommendations include a tuition increase for more costly or in-demand majors, a $500-per-semester fee for international students and a tuition surcharge for students enrolled in 19 or more credits. Those increases would be accompanied by a slow increase in undergraduate base tuition and the possibility of tuition decreases on branch campuses, including those in Western Pennsylvania.

"The overarching view, I think, was that tuition should follow cost and demand a little more than it does," said Susan Welch, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences and one of the leaders of the Budget Planning Task Force.

One proposal in particular caused a stir at Thursday’s trustee meeting for the Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning: adding a 50 percent tuition surcharge for students enrolled in 19 or more credit hours per semester.

Senior vice president for finance and business David Gray said the decision would prevent students from loading up on courses at the beginning of the semester and then dropping those least attractive later on. Ms. Welch said very few Penn State students took more than 19 hours per semester but couldn’t give an estimate.

The suggestion of a surcharge elicited a strong reaction from board chairman Keith Masser.

"You’re punishing someone who is wanting to get education quicker and get out in the work force," he said.

More dissent is coming from the state house, specifically Andrew E. Dinniman, D-Chester, and minority chair of the Senate education committee.

"This is contrary to our efforts to get students through college as quickly as possible," he said Thursday. "And one wonders whether the millions of dollars that it is costing the university for Sandusky is behind some of the efforts to raise revenues."

"If a student is capable of taking on more work rather than less," he added, "we have always allowed such students to take on as much work as they can, without penalty."

The State System of Higher Education weighed but ultimately scrapped a similar plan in 2004 to tack on a $192 a credit fee for students with a course load of 16 credits or greater.

The State System's chancellor then, Judy Hample, proposed the idea as a way to discourage "course shopping" -- the same reason Mr. Gray offered.

But critics said it in effect would also have punished students who are truly interested in extra courses or want to finish their degrees early.

At Penn State right now, certain major programs feature higher tuitions than others, such as engineering, IST and nursing. Programs like these would become even more expensive under the recommendations: the could cost another $100-$500 per semester. The tuition differential between freshman and sophomore level classes and junior and senior level classes would also grow wider.

Deciding which programs for which to raise tuition would be based on the demand for that program and its expense to the university. Mr. Gray said they would have to strike a "delicate balance" so as not to price students out of the more expensive programs.

While costs would rise for many students at University Park under these recommendations, the opposite is true for many of the Penn State branch campuses. Mr. Gray specifically highlighted Western Pennsylvania as a region where changing demographics could lead to lower tuition rates.

State representative Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, chairman of the house education committee, also cautioned against administering a tuition surcharge for students taking 19 or more credits but said Penn State was "on the right track" if a pricing system geared more towards demand enables Western Pennsylvania campuses to better compete for students by charging more favorable rates.

"You become more attractive," he said.

Ms. Welch said the recommendations were at this point just that -- recommendations. They will be discussed at a later date and have not been set forth to a vote by the board.

 


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com or 412-439-3791. Twitter: @mdent05. Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977. Twitter: @bschacknerpg.

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