Penn State raises tuition by 3 percent

Posted: July 13, 2014

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. - Even as Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees voted Friday to raise tuition by nearly 3 percent on its main campus, new president Eric Barron announced plans to focus on reining in soaring student debt.

Over the last 10 years, Penn State graduates' debt has grown from an average of less than $20,000 to $35,000, Barron told the board during its meeting at the Penn State Schuylkill campus here. About two-thirds of students graduate with debt, the same percentage as a decade ago.

It was Barron's first presentation as president to the board, during a meeting where the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal was again raised, this time by a trustee also attending his first meeting.

Student debt is growing, Barron said, because many students do not graduate within four years. More than 2,600 freshmen who began in the fall of 2007 needed a fifth or sixth year to graduate and borrowed a combined $23 million to pay for those additional years.

Barron said too many students have to work too many hours during the school year to pay for their education, taking time away from their studies. He said he aims to address that by raising $25 million to $30 million for a program he called "a Penn State promise."

He offered no specifics, but said the program might also involve more online and on-campus summer classes, and boosting advising and support services for students.

The effort is not unusual. Temple University president Neil Theobald in February announced "Fly in Four," a program designed to help students graduate on time and avoid increased debt.

Beginning this fall, Temple will offer incoming students from lower-income families $4,000 annual grants to help cover the cost of tuition if they agree to limit their off-campus jobs to no more than 10 hours a week during school.

As for the increase approved Friday, in-state freshmen and sophomores in most majors on the main campus will pay about $27,200 in tuition, fees, and room and board, which includes an annual increase of $482 in tuition.

In-state students at State College last year paid on average $26,362 in tuition, fees, and room and board.

Charges for upperclassmen vary; such students would pay more than $28,500. Students at the branch campuses would face smaller increases, ranging from zero to 2.4 percent.

The 2.99 percent tuition increase follows another year of flat state funding for the university, but is nevertheless smaller than last year, when students at State College were hit with a 3.39 percent increase.

Also at the meeting, newly elected alumni trustees left no doubt that they would press on for exoneration of the university and its leaders in the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Sandusky.

At his first meeting as a trustee, Al Lord introduced a resolution that calls for a reinvestigation of the Sandusky matter, and criticizes the university-commissioned report released two years ago by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

That report said university leaders, including former president Graham B. Spanier and the late Joe Paterno, covered up Sandusky's crimes. Sandusky, a one-time assistant to the coaching legend, was ultimately convicted of assaulting 10 young boys, some on campus.

The motion was seconded by Alice Pope, a university professor and another newly elected alumni trustee.

"Ultimately, we're looking for repudiation of the conclusions reached by Louis Freeh," said Anthony Lubrano, a Chester County businessman and alumni-elected trustee.

The board agreed to table the motion until the matter can be discussed at a private session, likely when it holds its next regular meeting in September.

In his resolution, Lord says the Freeh report caused "financial and reputational damage" to Penn State and has been shown to have flaws.

"I don't expect to win this resolution, but I want the board on the record," Lord said.

Lord, a former head of SLM Corp., commonly known as Sallie Mae, is one of nine alumni-elected trustees on the 32-member board.

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