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State System Of Higher Education Sends Message To Harrisburg With Tuition Freeze

Keith Srakocic
AP Photos
In this photo made on Friday, May 24, Old Main, right, is shown on the campus of Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pa. It is one of the 14 universities in the state's system og higher education.

Pennsylvania students who attend state-owned universities won't see higher tuition next year, the first such freeze in more than 20 years.

The State System of Higher Education's board on Wednesday voted for to keep in-state tuition flat at about $7,700. 

State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein recommended the hold. He says he hopes it will send a message to the state’s General Assembly; The system faces a $60 million dollar shortfall and Greenstein says universities can’t rely on students to fill the gap.

“My recommendation is that we go for zero. And I say that knowing full well how much of an impact that is going to have on our universities. That pain is real.”

He said incremental tuition increases will not solve the problem in the long-term.

“The long-term solution here is a completely different kind of partnership with the state,” he said.

Greenstein highlighted the decrease in state financial support to universities during Wednesday's meeting.

Most of the system's students are from Pennsylvania. The system's 14 schools include Clarion, California, Indiana and Slippery Rock.

The system's last tuition freeze was for the 1998-99 school year, when the cost for in-state students was less than half what it is today.

The universities have seen total enrollment fall over the past eight years from about 112,000 to just over 90,000.

The state government's financial support for the system will rise by about 2 percent this year, to $477 million.

The system is also in the midst of a redesign due to the decline in enrollment. Greenstein says he expects the plan to create significant savings.

Greenstein noted that enrollment is falling fastest among students from middle-income families, and higher costs make the schools less affordable and less accessible.

He said a tuition freeze is not sustainable, but fundamental changes to the structure of the university system could — over time — produce cost savings and drive up enrollment.

The board has moved to allow universities to set tuition rates rather than setting a single system tuition yearly. That will begin next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.