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Pennsylvania universities get flexibility on tuition rates

University of PennsylvaniaThe board that oversees Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities gave the green light for experiments that could give individual campuses more flexibility in setting tuition and fees.

The State System of Higher Education board approved two-year pilot projects at West Chester University and four other schools. Each project also requires approval from the individual universities.

Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the system, called the pricing concept “a major potential sea change” that would provide schools with much-needed flexibility.

“We are working to achieve a better balance between systemwide coordination and local decision-making, which will allow each of our universities to leverage its own strengths to advance the institution and the entire system,” Brogan said.

Projects were approved at California, Clarion, Edinboro, and East Stroudsburg Universities, along with West Chester, system officials said.
West Chester proposes a 10 percent tuition discount for students who take its courses at the system’s location in Philadelphia.

Edinboro is proposing to reduce tuition for out-of-state students to bolster recruitment, while California wants to reduce tuition for active members of the military and their spouses and dependents.

Edinboro, Clarion, and East Stroudsburg are seeking to establish new course- or program-specific fees to help offset the costs of their nursing programs, and Clarion also would establish a similar fee for its communication and speech-disorder program.

The modified rates could be in effect in time for fall classes, officials have said. They added that additional price proposals are likely in the months ahead as the 14 universities struggle with declining enrollments and rising costs amid sharp cuts in state aid.

Since the State System’s creation in the early 1980s, its board of governors has approved an across-the-board tuition figure each year and a related fee. Pennsylvanians currently pay a yearly undergraduate tuition of $6,622.

Individual campuses have long had authority to set other fees, including those for student activities and room and board.

Those campus-based fees have risen at a rate much faster than systemwide tuition. Brogan has said a task force looking at pricing would explore those fees, too.

The State System, with 112,000 students, has weathered a 6 percent enrollment loss since 2010.

Also Thursday, the board voted to allow Indiana University to buy back early the $34 million in bond debt that helped it finish the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.

The school has said it intends to tap reserves to accomplish the buyback, and thus avoid more than $18 million in interest payments beyond the remaining bond principal that have become an annual drag on the university’s education and general budget.

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