HARRISBURG — Tuition and technology fees will be frozen at current rates in 2019-20 for Pennsylvania residents attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania and 13 other institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
At the first day of a two-day meeting Wednesday in Harrisburg, the PASSHE Board of Governors approved a base-line tuition for in-state students of $7,716, plus a $478 technology fee.
“We always keep in mind that students come first,” board Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said. “I think this will continue to keep us focused in the right way as we go forward.”
It affects about 90 percent of a total enrollment of nearly 100,000, and leaves a projected $63 million hole in a budget of more than $2 billion.
IUP Council of Trustees Chairman Sam Smith, a retired legislator and former state House speaker from Jefferson County, said the vote to freeze tuition will create “some notable pain and change.” He told his colleagues, “I think we all have to recognize that this is just the first dose of it.”
In his remarks, Chancellor Dr. Dan Greenstein stressed that affordable public higher education is possible, and is a public good.
“It is a driver of economic prosperity in Pennsylvania,” Greenstein said. “We are routinely through public higher education addressing skill shortages in high demand fields, STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health), but obviously in many others, producing lifelong learners who are resilient.”
A spokesman for the state system said it is the first time in 21 years that the tuition has been frozen.
“It was time for bold action and it was time to do what we can to relieve the burden on students and their families,” said David Pidgeon, who succeeded recently retired PASSHE media relations manager Kenn Marshall.
Pidgeon said the commonwealth’s appropriation to the 14 state-owned universities has dropped over the past 20 years from 47 percent of the PASSHE budget to 28 percent.
The Board of Governors accepted the $477,470,000 subsidy approved in the 2019-20 budget passed last month by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.
The governors anticipated a $461,551,183 allocation for the 14 institutions in April, including $54,846,695 for IUP.
Another 10 percent was pro-rated to divide another $10,196,282 among the universities, including $1,211,637 to IUP to bring its total allocation to $56,058,332.
Another $5,722,535 was set aside for systemwide items.
According to the State System website, the 14 universities operate with a combined $2.1 billion annual budget and receive the equivalent of about $3,900 per student in state support, about two-thirds the national average among all public colleges and universities.
Earlier this year, the Board of Governors approved a new policy giving IUP and the other universities more flexibility in setting tuition.
“Next year, in spring 2020, the board will set a base in-state tuition rate, but individual universities can present multi-year tuition plans for board appropriation,” Pidgeon said.
It also is meant to give the 14 institutions more ability to plan, budget and allocate resources over multiple years.
Pidgeon said it will give students more predictability about costs, and also allow each university to be competitive with other institutions in their respective regions of Pennsylvania.
“Each of these regions are different in terms of competitiveness,” the PASSHE spokesman said.
A partnership with the General Assembly is included in the “System Redesign” effort that according to a timetable detailed by the board is in its second phase, developing detailed implementation plans.
“We are completely serious about (system) redesign and completely serious about our three strategic priorities, which include student success, university success and a transformation of governance and leadership, at least to excellence in decision making,” Shapira said.
There were those on hand who questioned how affordable a PASSHE education is. Some two dozen members of the Pennsylvania Student Power Network said they had a petition with “almost 100 signatures” from PASSHE students called for the tuition freeze.
They also have pressed public officials to sign on to a pledge “to stand up for students by supporting College for All across Pennsylvania,” making “state-funded schools tuition-free and (ensuring) that quality higher education is available and accessible to all Pennsylvanians.”
The network, which stresses “fighting for our futures” on its Facebook page, has had some members attending meetings of the Council of Trustees at IUP.
At Dixon University Center Wednesday they said Pennsylvania students graduate with the highest average student debt in the country, and that the commonwealth is third in higher education cuts since 2008.
The board also had a moment of silence for Brian Swatt, an IUP student serving on the Board of Governors who was killed in a car crash on June 7 in East Franklin Township, Armstrong County.
“We are all devastated,” Shapira said. “Brian was an incredible kid, he was just a great, great person. He was really a role model.”
Swatt would have been a senior this fall majoring in political science at IUP. He also had just begun serving in a staff position in the district office of state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana.
The Board of Governors was to conclude its quarterly meeting today. On the agenda is election of the board’s officers for the coming academic year.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.