Universities tied to the state of Pennsylvania must determine what their response to their Governor’s Gift is.
The state has four universities that fall into this category of public but not really public, private but not really private.
They are also among the largest in Pennsylvania. Penn State – the Commonwealth’s land-grant university – is one of the largest in the country, with 24 campuses and a total enrollment of around 100,000. Then there’s Temple, with eight campuses and around 40,000 students, and Pitt with five campuses and about 35,000 students. Lincoln University is the smallest, with two campuses and just over 2,000 students.
The state-related designation is a strange void that allows schools to exist without state control while demanding money from the state. This opens them up to a degree of transparency but isn’t subject to the same scrutiny as schools in the state of Pennsylvania’s higher education system.
The relationship opens them up to becoming political footballs – kicked out when the government doesn’t want to deal with them and used to score points when it suits them.
This year, they must do both. Education funding was – as is often the case – part of the annual showdown over the adoption of a budget. But after that, another revelation was made. Governor Tom Wolf is giving schools a $40 million discretionary boost.
And yet each of them raises tuition fees.
Penn State, Temple, and Pitt have some of the highest public school tuition rates in the nation. Over the past 30 years, college tuition fees have skyrocketed, rising at about twice the level of inflation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
They know it’s a problem. They know that students graduate with crushing debt. They nodded to fix it, issuing freezes from time to time. Penn State’s increase has no impact on students from households earning $70,000 or less.
But overall, the tuition increases have come, despite demands from lawmakers to freeze them.
Universities — especially the big three — must make real, binding commitments to keep the line on tuition fees, both as a necessary relief for students and a liability to taxpayers.