The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has announced that its tuition freeze has done little to prevent a decline in enrollment. This comes as other institutions across the state increase their costs. The Chancellor of PASSHE, Dan Greenstein, told the House Appropriations Committee that their universities cost roughly $5,000 less than other institutions across the state. However, the system remains among the most expensive in the country, with low and middle-income students bearing the brunt of the cost. Greenstein also highlighted that the system receives less state financial support compared to neighboring states such as New York and New Jersey.
The Importance of Making Education Affordable
Greenstein emphasized the importance of making education affordable. Students who leave the state to pursue more affordable degrees elsewhere are unlikely to return to work. Pennsylvania’s declining population of working-age adults has been an economic strain for years, and this has increased pressure as the number of retired residents swells. To address this issue, Governor Josh Shapiro has called for investments in career and technical education programs and tax credits for in-demand careers such as teachers and nurses.
The System Needs More Financial Support
Greenstein stated that the system needs $573.5 million from the state to provide more financial support to students and cover a 3.8% inflationary strain. This will not only keep tuition frozen for the fifth year in a row, but it will also help students pursuing degrees in education, nursing, business, and STEM fields. The request is higher than Shapiro’s proposed 2% budget increase to the system and comes after a drastic redesign that consolidated 14 schools into 10 and slashed operating costs by $300 million over the last three years. The measures brought the system back from the “brink of insolvency,” according to Representative John Lawrence.
Concerns About the System’s Ability to Operate Cohesively
Representative Kyle Mullins expressed concerns about the system’s ability to operate as a cohesive whole. The system’s state funding comes from a single pool, meaning that universities that have been more successful in maintaining enrollment numbers and managing budgets find themselves offsetting the cost of struggling schools. Greenstein acknowledged this and said that the system is looking at options to further unify, although the schools within it typically appeal to the local community for the majority of their enrollment. This stands in contrast to the schools receiving the majority of the budget’s higher education funding: Penn State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and Lincoln University.