Education's price: Colleges struggle, and so do those who pay tuition

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Pennsylvania universities are sending students a sober message: The high cost of education is getting higher.

Last week the State System of Higher Education approved a 3 percent tuition increase for the 2013-14 school year at the 14 state-owned universities. Penn State University raised tuition by 1 percent to 3.4 percent, depending on the campus. And on Wednesday the University of Pittsburgh increased tuitions at the main campus and three of four regional campuses; the hike at the Oakland campus was 3.25 percent.

The higher bills come when the nation's cost of living index has risen only 1.8 percent in the last 12 months and the state-owned university system (which includes Slippery Rock, Edinboro and Indiana) is already facing its third consecutive enrollment decline.

With state funding for the state-owned universities cut by 18 percent in 2011-12 and kept flat ever since, Pennsylvania's public universities have their hands full in trying to shield students from higher rates. But many families face their own financial challenges when wages are flat and the state's jobless rate is 7.5 percent.

One purpose of public universities is to expand opportunities by making college affordable. Although Pennsylvania's universities have struggled recently to keep tuition hikes to a minimum, annual increases to student bills that exceed inflation are hard to take.

When Pennsylvanians who struggle to send their children to college see big construction programs on campus and hefty pay for university executives, they wonder how hard the schools are trying to keep costs down.

Although it's true that the latest tuition hikes aren't as large as those from several years ago, the fact that annual increases have become the norm in higher education is disturbing. Pennsylvania students and their families deserve better.

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