IUP fees for room, board going up
March 15, 2013 11:00 AM

Indiana University of Pennsylvania students will be paying more to eat and sleep on campus next year.

During their quarterly meeting Thursday, the university’s trustees raised room and board fees by about 7 percent.

The increases, 4 percent for a bed in a university-owned residence hall and at least 3 percent for a meal plan, are meant to offset rising operational costs and the costs of new construction.

All told, a student who eats 14 meals a week and lives in a traditional two-person dorm room should expect to see their room-and-board bills increase by $132 per semester next fall.

The housing increase pertains only to the remaining university-owned residence halls: Elkin, McCarthy and Whitmyre halls, the University Towers and the Punxsutawney Living Center. The Foundation for IUP owns all of the other campus residence halls, and it sets room rates at those places independently of the university. It has approved a 3 percent increase on its apartments.

Just as they have every year since 2010, IUP administrators said the increase is necessary because of the beds that were lost to the Residential Revival project, under which most of the old residence halls were leveled and replaced with modern suite-style apartments.

Administrators said that with the loss of the buildings, the university has fewer beds of its own over which to spread costs.

“The overall revenue from the university-owned beds will barely be sufficient to ensure self-sufficiency for the long term due to the ever-increasing need for repairs and upgrades to these buildings,” administrators stated in a written justification for the fee increase.

The university projects the increase will generate an additional $168,000 in revenue.

As for meal plans, students will be paying about $35 extra per semester in base rates. On top of that, they’ll be shelling out additional amounts to meet new mandatory minimums of so-called flex dollars. Those minimums, tacked onto the cost of a meal plan, are increasing by $50 or $100.

The electronic flex dollars are held in draw-down accounts that students use to pay for food and beverages at campus coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. The dollars are meant to be supplemental to meal plans.

So with the increase, a plan consisting of 19 meals per week and 200 flex dollars will cost $1,450. That same plan, with 150 flex dollars, costs $1,363 this semester.

The university estimates that the meal-fee increases will yield roughly $540,000 in new revenue.

Administrators said the increases are needed to counter rising salaries and wages, cafeteria management fees and food prices, and to help pay for a multimillion dollar overhaul of campus dining facilities.

As a result of the new debt, the university expects to see its dining hall debt service increase 74 percent to $1.6 million.

The fees are increasing at a time when students and their families are being asked to shoulder more of the cost of education.

At IUP this year, tuition and fees account for 63 percent of the university’s revenue. State funding, meanwhile, accounts for 25 percent. That difference is set to grow under the proposed 2013-14 state budget as Gov. Tom Corbett has recommended leaving the state system’s appropriation unchanged at $412.7 million.

Assuming the appropriation is approved as is, and assuming the state system’s governing body institutes a 3 percent tuition increase, IUP will be looking at a $6 million deficit, according to Cornelius Wooten, vice president for administration and finance.

Wooten, during a discussion with trustees, said the projected deficit also is based on an enrollment of 15,000 students. The university had a record number of students in the fall, but their numbers are expected to decline next year, and each fall in the three years after that.

In previous years, IUP’s budget shortfalls have been mitigated by record enrollments. But administrators said they believe IUP now can no longer escape the fact that the number of high school graduates in its core southwestern Pennsylvania market is declining.

IUP President Michael Driscoll said that, considering the projected deficit, the university over the next six weeks will have to look for some creative budgeting solutions. Those solutions, he said, include driving some new revenue, possibly by beefing up educational programs that are in high demand.

He said the university can’t simply cut a bit from here and there because it has already shaved expenses in previous budget cycles.

But, he said, the good news is that a $6 million shortfall does not make for a crisis and that the university as a whole has some time and flexibility to work around the problem. The university’s fiscal year begins July 1.

One thing that could potentially help reduce the shortfall is an early-retirement program provided for in the new labor contract with faculty. Wooten said there are between 128 and 132 IUP professors who are eligible for the program and, of those, one-third to one-half are likely to take advantage of it. Should that estimate bear out, IUP could save about $1.2 million, he said.

That projection is not included in the budget estimate.

Nevertheless, the university anticipates that union salaries, wages and benefits will increase by $8 million next year under their respective labor contracts.

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