Posted to PennLive on April 5, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced a new tuition policy for all 14 schools in the system, which includes West Chester University. This new policy will allow for universities to choose between charging their base tuition rate as determined by the PASSHE board or determine their own tuition based upon the “regional economic differences, the competition from other higher education institutions in their area, the varying cost of academic programs and the specific financial needs of students.” In addition, the policy change decided that tuition rates for universities will be determined in April, rather than July. With this, universities will also announce the tentative tuition for the following year as well. Millersville University and Indiana University have already signed on to determine their own tuition rates in accordance with the new policy.
Ideally, this decision will allow for universities to eliminate some of the tuition barriers that prevent low-income students from attending school. With the price of college tuition rising each year, less and less students are able to afford the cost. Data from the 2017-2018 school year reports a continued decline in college attendance from students whose families make between $48,000 and $110,000 a year.
“These conscious policy decisions are hurting a generation by denying them a real opportunity for a college education.”
Varying opinions on the new policy range from worried to supportive of PASSHE’s decision to implement university choice in tuition decisions. In an address to the board of governors on April 4, Dr. Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) union, worried that this change would only hurt funding to the state system, claiming funding for the PASSHE system would return to how it was in 2005 and 2006.
“It is important to acknowledge that the Commonwealth has restored only $62.2 million of the $90.6 million cut in 2011. That $28 million difference does not even account for inflation.”
He noted that state allocation for full-time student tuition in 1991 and 1992 accounted for 55 percent, which has declined with each year. As of 2017, state allocation now accounts for 27 percent of full-time tuition. This requires full-time students to account for the remaining 73 percent of their tuition costs.
According to a report conducted by USnews, Pennsylvania is currently ranked 50 in the country in higher education as of 2017. Pennsylvania is currently ranked 48 in the nation for “low debt at graduation” and “tuition and fees.”
Dr. Mash describes these low numbers as a “policy choice” and as “more than an embarrassment.”
“It has made it more and more difficult for every part of our universities to best serve our students,” he said in his address. “More important, these conscious policy decisions are hurting a generation by denying them a real opportunity for a college education or straddling them with ridiculous loans. The implications of this for every Pennsylvanian are enormous.”
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) currently reports an average of $25,332 for in-state tuition, room and board in Pennsylvania for 2016.
Christoforos Sassaris, a third-year student at West Chester University, is a first-generation college student studying English who also has concerns over the new tuition policy.
“The way I understand it, if the tuition rates reflect the socioeconomic climate of the area, to me that sounds like West Chester’s price would increase because it’s one of the wealthiest counties in the state,” he said. “The only reason I could afford to go to college was because I happen to live near a school that is unusually cheap for how good it is. The way I understand it, it sounds like this policy could increase the tuition price at West Chester.”
For more information on PASSHE’s tuition policy, students can visit PASSHE’s website and read press releases for more information. Dr. Kenneth Mash’s full statement can be found via ASPCUF’s website.
Sam Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English. SW850037@wcupa.edu