News Wednesday that Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education — a conglomeration of 14 state-owned universities — will not raise tuition for the first time in two decades is certainly welcome to students across Pennsylvania.
Ninety percent of the students attending one of the state schools — Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester — are Pennsylvania residents. There are nearly 90,000 students in the system including more than 1,500 from the Valley's four-county area.
At a time when costs of higher education are skyrocketing, potential students should appreciate the news. A study released this week by WalletHub — a credit score website — ranked Pennsylvania second behind only Connecticut in terms of student debt and fifth nationally in percentage of students graduating with student debt. There is an estimated $1.5 trillion in student debt in the United States.
The state system has long been seen as a way to potentially avoid crippling debt. With tuition holding steady at about $7,700 annually, the 14 state schools, for years a springboard for many of Pennsylvania's teachers and other professionals, remain an affordable and, in many cases, local option. Enrollment is falling fastest among students from middle-income families. Increased costs can make the schools less affordable and less accessible, state system Chancellor Dan Greenstein said.
Funding for the state system from the general assembly is set to increase by 2 percent this year to $477 million.
According to The Associated Press, the only other time the state system didn't bump tuition — a 36-year window — was for the 1998-99 school year. Wednesday's vote "followed a lengthy discussion about an ongoing effort to redesign the system, and Chancellor Dan Greenstein recommended the freeze, referring to the impact of higher costs on students and the message that flat tuition would send lawmakers."
“We need to be bold, and we need to keep students at the center of everything we do, so I want to thank the board for leading the way on tuition,” Greenstein said.
With ongoing discussion about how to potentially revamp the system, possible ways to stem the tide of declining enrollment and finding ways to remain an affordable option for Pennsylvania's students, Wednesday's vote is a strong step, although Greenstein acknowledges it is not sustainable.
It is likely a one-time deal with state system leaders reviewing ways to bolster and grow revenue while keeping the students' interests in the forefront of any dialogue.
We understand it wasn't an easy one, but right now it seems a wise move.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item's editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today's was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.