2008-10-30 / Local & State

Pa. Universities Envision 4 Percent Tuition Hike


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Students at Pennsylvania's 14 stateowned universities could see a 4 percent tuition increase in the 2009-10 academic year under a state funding request approved Thursday by the system's governing board.

The State System of Higher Education's plan envisions a $214 yearly tuition increase for full-time students who are Pennsylvania residents, or 4 percent more than the current annual rate of $5,358.

The system's governing board is seeking nearly $527 million in state aid for the 2009-10 fiscal year - a roughly $28 million increase over the current year's appropriation. The money would help support a proposed operating budget of $1.4 billion, which represents a 5 percent increase.

The requested state aid increase for next year comes as the system is preparing for possible budget cuts this year.

The board also agreed to comply with Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to trim state spending by 4.25 percent in the face of declining revenue. It voted to freeze about $22 million in the system's state aid for the current year in case Rendell determines spending cuts are needed to help balance the state budget.

Board chairman Ken Jarin said after the meeting that the system's funding request reflects its needs but can be adjusted if the governor and Legislature cannot honor it. Tuition rates for each academic year are typically set in July, after the state budget is passed.

"If the economy and the state budget are such that that level of funding isn't possible, we have to deal with it,'' Jarin said. "We are going to remain absolutely committed to keeping tuition increases at a reasonable level.''

During the board's finance committee meeting Wednesday, system officials said an increase in the operating budget was necessary to keep pace with the rising costs of salaries and benefits, utilities, and library materials.

Rendell has asked both the state system and the four state-related universities - University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln, Temple and Penn State universities - to brace for possible state aid cuts to counter lower-than-expected revenues, the governor's spokesman Chuck Ardo said.

The other public universities are also asking the Legislature for more money next year. Penn State has requested a nearly 7 percent state aid boost and envisions a 5.5 percent tuition increase at its flagship campus in University Park, for example.

Tuition at University Park is more than $13,000 annually for resident freshmen and sophomores and ranges between $14,000 and $16,800 annually for resident juniors and seniors, depending on their major.

Rendell has not asked the state's 14 community colleges to follow suit because they attract more students in tough economic times, and he believes they would be less able to absorb a funding cut without limiting services, Ardo said.

The state system schools are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities. They enroll more than 112,000 students combined.

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