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Penn State increases tuition $1,300

Saturday, July 12, 2003

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In-state tuition at Penn State University will increase for some students by almost $1,300 this fall, a jump the school says is unavoidable given rising costs and repeated cuts in its state appropriation.

The university's trustees voted yesterday to raise base tuition for the 2003-04 academic year by 9.8 percent, or $788 a year for in-state students on the main University Park campus. In addition, this is the first year of a new differential program in which Penn State students will pay an extra $100 to $500 on top of regular tuition prices.

Main campus freshmen will shoulder the brunt of that new program, paying $500 extra this year and next year. Freshmen enrolled at one of Penn State's branch campuses will pay a smaller $100 differential charge, and main and branch campus juniors and seniors who now pay higher tuition for taking upper division courses will be asked to pay an additional $360 over two years.

Graduate students also must pay $360 extra under the program that was approved last year, the school said.

Penn State, the largest university in the commonwealth with 83,000 students, said the state's fiscal crisis has accelerated a decades-long erosion of state support. The school has absorbed $45 million in appropriation cuts the last two years alone, including a 5 percent reduction this year.

"The cost of attending Penn State is a concern for all of us, and is certainly higher than most of our students would like," said Penn State President Graham Spanier. "At the same time, we remain committed to providing the high quality of education that our students and their families have come to expect."

Those words are likely to do little for students like Andy Nagypal, 29, a nontraditional senior from Philadelphia who hosts a program on student-run WKPS-FM on the main campus and hears frequent complaints about cost.

He said he suspects the parade of tuition increases at his school -- including last year's 13.5 percent jump and a 7.8 percent increase the previous year -- has put his school well ahead financially, even with the state cutbacks.

"I know of at least half a dozen people from out of state who I spoke with in the last several months who said they can not return to Penn State because they can not afford the tuition," he said following yesterday's board vote. "We knew it was coming, but I am nonetheless quite dismayed as are many other students."

Penn State, though, says it has done all it can to curb costs and might have raised tuition higher, were it not for tens of millions of dollars in internal budget reductions achieved in recent years.

As it is, base undergraduate tuition on the main campus has risen by almost 70 percent since 1995, according to a review of university data.

Pennsylvania's public university prices traditionally are among the highest in the nation, and the rate of tuition increases imposed at those schools has accelerated the last couple years as the state's fiscal picture has worsened.

Penn State officials took pains yesterday to note that students nationwide are feeling the effects of a bad economy. They pointed to tuition increases of 19 percent at the University of Iowa, 18 percent at the University of Wisconsin, 14 percent at Ohio State University and 13 percent at the University of Minnesota.

Penn State's new base rate of $8,796 on the main campus does not include room, board, books and other fees that typically rise at Penn State and other universities each year. In March, the school raised average room and board costs to $5,940, an increase of 4.9 percent or $280 a year.

Costs at Penn State paid by out-of-state students are twice what Pennsylvania residents pay. Non-Pennsylvanians on the main campus will see a tuition increase of $1,182 or 6.9 percent. Those attending the university's Commonwealth campuses will see a $1,144 or 9.5 percent jump.

The new tuition rates are part of a university budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year of just over $2.55 billion that was approved yesterday by the trustees, who met in Hazleton. The school said it will amend the budget should last-minute talks involving the state budget yield additional aid, though prospects in recent weeks have looked dim.

Penn State said the campus budget contains few new university-wide initiatives but has additional money to offset rising health care and other insurance costs totaling $17 million; $15.7 million for facilities needs, and $25.1 million for what the school called modest salary increases for employees and graduate assistants.

On Thursday, leaders of Pennsylvania's 14 state universities postponed voting on a 5 percent tuition increase for their campuses, including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock in Western Pennsyvlania. The State System of Higher Education did so following a request by Gov. Rendell, who along with some legislators hopes some of that system's 5 percent appropriation cut will be restored.

But Penn State and the other state-related campuses, including the University of Pittsburgh, have received no such encouragement from the governor. Pitt said yesterday it will proceed with a planned tuition vote on Monday.

Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.

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