Members of the Penn State Board of Trustees are worried about the increasing cost of higher education.
The board committee on governance and long-range planning discussed Penn State’s strategic planning process, which raised concerns over the cost of earning a degree.
During university provost Nick Jones' report on Penn State’s strategic plan, trustees Keith Eckel and Anthony Lubrano both stressed that stabilizing Penn State’s increasing tuition needs to be a university priority.
Jones assured Eckel that tuition is an important part of the university's strategic planning conversation. His office has formed a planning committee with representatives from faculty, administration and students to make suggestions for reducing tuition.
“Is it unreasonable to make it an objective – an achievable objective – to raise tuition by zero percent over the next few years?” Lubrano asked. “… I recognize the challenges, but I’m not convinced it’s impossible.”
Penn State President Eric Barron agreed that a Penn State education needs to remain accessible to all students, including those from low and moderate-income families. He said lowering tuition is complicated by the rising cost of other university expenses.
Penn State is forced to constantly make cuts to its budget to keep its expenses roughly the same from year to year, Barron said. This is because some costs – including pension plans and employee benefits – continue to increase each year.
“If you look at the dollar amount, the increase to the cost of benefits and health plans for the university exceeds our tuition increase,” Barron said.
The good news is that the economy has begun to recover from the most recent recession, giving Penn State and other universities a more solid economic footing to make investments. One of the investments Barron wants to focus on is decreasing the cost of a degree – which is a cost separate from tuition.
Many economically disadvantaged students end up taking more than four years to graduate, Barron said. By investing in resources and support systems to shorten their time at Penn State, those students will graduate with significantly less debt.
The committee also discussed the importance of maintaining a connection between Penn State’s disparate campuses.
Madlyn Hanes, Penn State’s vice president for commonwealth campuses, told board members that the university’s multi-campus structure is “unique among public higher education in Pennsylvania, the nation, and possibly the world.”
She said Penn State maintains its reputation across all 24 campuses by working through a highly-interconnected, centralized administrative system. Maintaining consistency in academics is especially important for Penn State because of the number of students that attend multiple campuses before graduation.
Lubrano asked if the processes for risk management and administration across commonwealth campuses has changed over Penn State's turbulent past few years.
“I think we’re paying increased attention,” Hanes said. “It’s not that we have new processes, but we are very diligent in making sure that when we move in one direction, we move as an entire multi-campus structure.”
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