Campus tuition freeze part of president’s access and affordability plans

 As part of his initiative to help students and families facing financial pressures, Penn State President Eric Barron on Friday (Jan. 16) proposed to the Board of Trustees a freeze of tuition rates for eight of the 19 undergraduate Commonwealth Campuses for next year, in addition to presenting five other recommendations.

?Our University is committed to access and affordability, so any student in Pennsylvania who is qualified to receive a Penn State education should be supported to the extent we have that ability,? Barron said. ?This includes putting into practice practical initiatives to help increase retention and graduation rates while decreasing the cost of a degree and the rate of student borrowing.?

Under Barron?s plan, tuition would be held flat for Shenango, Beaver, DuBois, Fayette, Greater Allegheny, Mont Alto, New Kensington and Wilkes-Barre campuses for the 2015-16 academic year. Additionally, six other Commonwealth Campuses, including Brandywine, Hazleton, Lehigh Valley, Schuylkill, Worthington Scranton and York, would only see a modest increase of 1.8 percent in tuition for the year. Also proposed is a 2.4 percent increase for remaining campuses, Abington, Altoona, Berks, Erie and Harrisburg.

?Penn State remains committed to keeping our tuition increases as low as practically possible, and we are pleased that this year we may favorably impact students at these 14 campuses,? Barron said. ?Penn State?s Commonwealth Campuses provide educational opportunities for a diverse population of students, many from families with fewer financial resources. The campuses also serve non-traditional students, and about 60 percent of all students work 22 hours a week on average.?

The campuses were identified based on factors such as higher percentages of need-based students, socio-economic and demographic challenges in the surrounding communities and Penn State?s potential to give relevant career path opportunities to students living in those areas of the Commonwealth. The University also continues to aggressively pursue opportunities for strategic reduction of expenditures at all campuses that can benefit our students and their families.

?Having access to a Penn State campus close to home provides a tremendous financial benefit to our students and families,? said Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses. ?Eighty-five percent of our students are Pennsylvanians.  Many come from households of modest resources and are the first in their family to attend college.?

Penn State is receiving a record amount of applications, and a large percentage of students ? 39 percent at Commonwealth Campuses and 21 percent at University Park ? are the first in their families to attend college. Simultaneously, the average student debt has grown from $20,000 a decade ago to $35,429, and family income continues to have a significant impact on retention and graduation rates.

Penn State?s Commonwealth Campuses provide students the ability to spend two years at one campus and then transition to another through the University?s 2+2 program (link: The steady tuition rate would give many students the financial benefit of paying a lower tuition for two years before moving to another campus to complete their Penn State degree. Students who choose to remain at their initial campus may realize additional financial benefits.

Access and affordability is one of the six imperatives outlined by Barron when he took office in May.

At Friday?s meeting, Barron suggested five other recommendations for creating accessibility for students, many of which were established by the Penn State Enhanced Education Pathways Committee, charged by Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones. The group was challenged to explore ways to provide high-quality education at a cost that ensures expanded access for citizens. The remaining recommendations include:

  • Math, English and foreign language preparation for incoming students to assist in their successful transition from high school to college, while providing students the opportunity to begin college study at the appropriate level for their intended major.
  • Summer school/on campus employment for first- and second-year students to shorten time-to-degree and lower overall cost; students will make progress toward degree while working on campus or in the community.   
  • Expanding the Student Transitional Experiences Program (link: (STEP II) to provide financial, academic and social support for students who change campuses to ensure satisfactory academic progress.
  • Increased emphasis on financial literacy and well-being to improve student and family understanding of the cost of an education, its benefits, and the long-term consequences of debt. 
  • Increasing institutional support for the Provost Awards scholarship program by $5 million in summer-fall 2015. The program, implemented in 2013, uses an allocation of central funds to provide initial financial aid awards of $4,000 per student and annual renewals through graduation. After committing $20 million each of the first two years, Penn State will increase the amount to $25 million.

Additionally, Penn State has partnered with the program to offer micro-scholarships to students in five key public high schools in the city of Philadelphia and the nearby area. The program allows students to earn scholarship support toward their tuition at Penn State by achieving various success factors while still in high school, including achieving high grades in core coursework, taking honors courses or advanced placement, participating in leadership roles and studying world languages.