California University of Pennsylvania

Old Main on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania

For the first time in more than 20 years, tuition will not increase for students at California University of Pennsylvania and other state-owned schools for the upcoming school year.

The State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors earlier this month voted unanimously to keep in-state tuition flat at $7,716 for the 2019-20 academic year at the system’s 14 universities.

“Our mission is clear. These universities exist so that Pennsylvanians across all income levels can access quality higher education, and by holding the line on tuition, we are living up to that mission,” said Cindy Shapira, chair of the Board of Governors, in a press release.

The vote followed a lengthy discussion about an ongoing effort to redesign the system. Chancellor Dan Greenstein recommended the freeze, referring to the impact of higher costs on students and the message that flat tuition would send lawmakers.

The decision leaves a projected budget hole of about $63 million that the system will have to address.

“The universities are aware that this budget gap cannot be fully funded by students,” Shapira told the board before the vote. “I know everyone is working very hard to reduce their cost structures through further implementation of activities that will reduce expenses and avoid costs to the extent possible.”

Cal U. spokeswoman Christine Kindl said the university is mindful of the need to provide high-quality higher education that is affordable for students at all income levels while being prudent of the State System’s financial situation.

“This tuition freeze aligns with our commitment to putting students first and helping them to build the successful future they envision.

“Under President (Geraldine) Jones’ leadership, Cal U. has made extraordinary efforts to rein in costs while maintaining high standards for both academics and student life. We are continuing on that path because we know that both the costs and the benefits of higher education have a long-term impact on the lives of our graduates,” said Kindl.

State system universities have reportedly seen total enrollment fall over the past eight years from about 112,000 to just over 90,000, of which nearly 90% hail from Pennsylvania.

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

“(The board) took a look at how tuition for more than 20 years has steadily risen, and they said, ‘Enough,’” said Greenstein. “Students across Pennsylvania are counting on us to provide high-quality, affordable higher education that will lift up their careers and prepare them for the future.”

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 tuition freeze is just the second in the organization’s 36-year history.

The only other tuition freeze occurred during the 1998-99 school year, when the cost for in-state students was less than half what it is today.

Next year, the system board will let its member schools set multi-year tuition, subject to board approval. System officials say the move will improve competitiveness and affordability at the public universities.

The State system will receive $477.5 million in funding from the commonwealth this year, up $9.4 million, or 2%, from the 2018-19 allocation of $468.1 million. The state over the last five years has restored about $64 million of the nearly $90 million in funding that was cut from the state system’s annual appropriation at the beginning of the recession. During that same time, however, the system has seen considerable increases to its mandated pension costs while other costs also have risen as the result of inflation and other factors.

The state paid 53% of the system’s costs in 1993, a figure that has since fallen to 27%.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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