College quiz: Will Pa. budget mean higher tuition?

Pennsylvania State University, one of the four state-related schools, is not likely to get the $14.7 million increase in aid that it requested.
Pennsylvania State University, one of the four state-related schools, is not likely to get the $14.7 million increase in aid that it requested. (GENE J. PUSKAR / AP)
Posted: July 05, 2014

Hold on to your wallets, students at Pennsylvania's state-funded colleges.

While much debate over the state's new budget has focused on aid to public schools, a less-noticed element is what the spending plan means for the colleges. It may mean higher tuition.

The 14 state-run universities will face a $58 million shortfall in their combined $1.56 billion budget for the new fiscal year if Gov. Corbett signs the budget with no changes. That $29.1 billion plan includes flat funding for most higher-education institutions, including the state system.

"That likely will involve some amount of tuition increase, combined with budget cuts across the system, which the individual universities will determine," said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Just how much will come in tuition for its students, who number about 112,000, and how much in budget cuts is uncertain.

"This board has been pretty committed to keeping tuition increases to around the rate of inflation, which would be about 3 percent," Marshall said last week. "If it did that, it would require additional budget cuts to erase the shortfall."

The system's board of governors will meet next week to vote on the 2014-15 operating budget and set tuition. Students currently pay about $17,000 annually in tuition, fees, and room and board.

The system had requested a 4 percent increase in state funding and $18 million for new program development. Under the budget approved this week by legislators, it would get about $412 million, as it has in each of the last three years.

The 14 state-system schools are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester Universities.

As for the four state-related schools, Pennsylvania State University would have a hole to close. It had requested a $14.7 million increase. As of now, it stands to receive $231.7 million, including a $2 million increase for its College of Technology in Williamsport.

A Penn State spokeswoman offered no speculation on what would happen if the university did not get the money it was seeking. Then-president Rodney Erickson told lawmakers in February that without the boost, the university would be hard-pressed to keep tuition increases from exceeding last year's figure, 2.76 percent.

In-state students attending Penn State's main campus last year paid $26,362 in tuition, fees, and room and board.

Penn State's board is scheduled to meet next week. Action on its budget and tuition is expected.

Not all the state-related universities are banking on an increase in state funding. Temple University is building its budget based on flat state funding, officials said. The school has trimmed $113 million from its operating budget over the last five years as state funding has waned, university officials noted. The state's budget includes $139.9 million for Temple, the same as last year.

Temple "is pleased with the overwhelming bipartisan support it received in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate," said Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., the school's senior vice president for government, community, and public affairs. He called the state appropriation "the single most important factor in keeping tuition affordable for our students from Pennsylvania."

Officials at Lincoln University, which would get the same $13.2 million as last year, declined comment.

The state's community colleges would see funding rise slightly, to $215.7 million - up $3.5 million.

Corbett said Thursday through a spokesman that he was "still reviewing" the budget, which outlines state spending for the fiscal year that began Tuesday.

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

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