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Barron Wants to Dedicate At Least $1.75 Million to Lowering Tuition

by on March 20, 2015 5:57 PM

Penn State President Eric Barron made a promise about tuition at Friday’s board of trustees meeting.

During a conversation with new non-voting trustee John Hanger (the governor’s new secretary of education), Barron said that if Penn State receives more money from the state than the $17 million the university has asked for, then at least $1.75 million will immediately go towards lowering tuition.

“The university has been very aggressive in looking at tuition models,” Barron said. “…And if we get a greater appropriation than we’ve requested, then we’re going to be even more aggressive.” 

University provost Nick Jones says Penn State has requested about $17 million more than the $214 million Penn State received last year. Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes a $263.7 million allocation to Penn State, which is an increase of about $49 million. However, Wolf’s budget still has to be passed by the legislature, so the exact amount of money Penn State will receive is still up in the air.

Hanger did more than just prompt Barron’s tuition promise. The governor’s cabinet member was an active participant in his first board of trustees meeting, arguing against what he sees as fiscally irresponsible decisions and unnecessary construction projects. 

Hanger opposed hiring an architect to design a new lacrosse field at Univeristy Park, and he also voiced disagreement with a plan to build a $30 million “student enrichment center” at Penn State Harrisburg. Both proposals passed, but only after a round of spirited debate between Hanger and the voting members of the board.

Trustee Ted Brown said the board had an obligation to begin designing a new lacrosse field because Penn State promised to update the sport’s facilities when it hired coach Jeff Tambroni. Student trustee Allison Goldstein also disagreed with Hanger’s opinion that the Harrisburg student enrichment center was an unnecessary expense, explaining that students deserve ample resources and space. 

“[However] Secretary Hanger raised valid points with respect to the timeliness and necessity of the projects we are discussing right now,” Goldstein said. “I do believe as our board continues on in our processes, the board and committees need to reevaluate our projects in the future, [asking] why now and what expense it will cause for our students.”

The board also approved a 3.89 percent to next year’s room and board costs, as well as construction of a new $62 million water treatment facility and a $58 million dollar data center.

Penn State also now has the trustees’ blessing to apply for a liquor license for the Bryce Jordan Center, but the motion only passed 13-7. Trustee Besty Huber was perhaps the most vocal opponent, suggesting it was hypocritical to apply for a liquor license while trying to discourage alcohol abuse among students.

"This action of the board and university sends the wrong message to students and to the public,” Huber said. “Even though I realize the license will not be used for university events, I don't think the distinction will be noticed by the public.”

If the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board approves the license, the Bryce Jordan Center will sell beer and possibly wine at non-university-affiliated events. Next month’s Garth Brooks concerts are being envisioned as a test run for the sale of alcohol at the BJC.

The trustees also renamed the Blue Band building after longtime director O. Richard Bundy (who is retiring in July), and finalized a merger between the Hershey Medical Center and the Pinnacle Health system of hospitals and health care facilities.

“What an incredible opportunity to drive down healthcare costs for central Pennsylvania,” Barron said of the merger.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano also wanted to have a conversation about the settlement between Penn State and the NCAA, but he willingly postponed that discussion because several trustees had to leave before the end of the meeting. Lubrano said he had concerns because the board did not have a public discussion before voting on the settlement. That topic is expected to come up for discussion at the next board of trustees meeting in May.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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