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Why Penn State says it ‘cannot support’ House amendment that would freeze tuition next year

The state House of Representatives wants Penn State and three other state-related universities to freeze tuition next year — but, three months after already announcing such a hike, Penn State said Tuesday it “cannot support” the potential move.

The land-grant university’s board of trustees approved a two-year budget in July, which included a 2% tuition increase this year and next for in-state University Park undergrads and 4% for out-of-state undergrads. But the Pennsylvania House voted Tuesday to tie their annual state appropriation to a tuition freeze, meaning more than $250 million in general support funds this year — a 7% increase over the previous year — might only be granted to PSU if it agrees to next year’s freeze.

The state Senate, which must also approve the bill before it becomes official, is not due back in session until Nov. 13.

“Penn State has already frozen tuition for all Pennsylvania resident undergraduate students at all of our commonwealth campuses for both this year and 2024-25,” a university statement read. “While we appreciate the Pennsylvania House approving increased funding for Penn State for the current fiscal year, we simply cannot support the amendment adopted by the House, which would undermine the board of trustees’ authority to set tuition and force the university to freeze tuition for all students in the next academic year, effectively resulting in a $54 million cut.

“The university has made modest tuition increases at the University Park campus and graduate degree programs. The appropriation level passed by the Pennsylvania House today is still less funding than Penn State received in 2010-11, even without accounting for inflation. Our elected officials cannot expect Penn State to offer a world-class education to our students while providing state funding near the lowest level in the nation.”

Republicans have repeatedly stopped the delayed appropriation from receiving the required supermajority to get it out of the Democratic-majority House. Critics have chafed at the proposed 7% increase in light of rising tuition costs and said the universities should be held to higher transparency standards.

On Monday, the House approved a bill that would expand what the universities must disclose about their finances and budget under the Right-to-Know Law, addressing one of the Republicans’ concerns. The proposal to require universities to freeze tuition for the 2024-2025 academic year was a late addition also championed by Republicans, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

But the bipartisan bill passed the House 145-57, and local State Reps. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, and Paul Takac, D-College Township, lauded the overall legislation.

“I am hopeful that today’s bipartisan vote in the House is quickly followed by action in the Senate to finally resolve this urgent issue,” Takac said in a written statement. “While H.B. 612 is not ideal, it does preserve the much-needed 7% funding increase supported by both the (Gov. Josh) Shapiro administration and House Democrats. This modest increase is a necessary first step to help make higher education more affordable for all Pennsylvanians and to invest in a strong, prosperous future for our commonwealth.”

In July, Penn State’s trustees approved a budget that would see a typical in-state UPark undergrad’s yearly tuition bill rise $386 to $19,672 this academic year and $394 to $20,066 the next. The proposed House bill would leave this year’s increase in place but would disallow the second hike and, based on the bill language, would also apply to out-of-state students. (Out-of-state students at University Park planned to see their tuition increase more than $1,500 each of the next two academic years.)

The tuition increase announcements came in the midst of what’s been described as a “tough” budget situation at Penn State, which is due in part to nationwide enrollment issues. In an effort to balance the budget by summer 2025, university administrators proposed operating budgets for two fiscal years, hence the unusual step of simultaneously releasing the tuition rates for the next two academic years.

Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi told the trustees in July that the university remained on track for a balanced budget by fiscal year 2025-26. It was not immediately clear if that would change or how Penn State might alter the 2024-2025 budget.

The university’s board of trustees is next scheduled to meet Nov. 9-10. When asked for comment, the board responded with a copy of the university’s statement, saying it also reflected the board’s perspective.

The Associated Press contributed to this report