For the first time in more than two decades, Pennsylvania students attending the state’s 14 public universities will face no tuition hike this fall.

Fees also will be frozen at the 2018-19 rate.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors approved the freeze at its meeting in Harrisburg on Wednesday afternoon.

“It is time for us to make a dramatic move. I think this is one,” said State Sen. Judith L. Schwank, a Berks County Democrat and member of the board.

The zero increase was proposed by Chancellor Daniel Greenstein and universally supported by members of the board, who one by one spoke in support.

Still, board member Sam Smith, former speaker of the state House, cautioned that the decision will mean pain for the system’s universities, which will have to figure out another way to close a $62.7 million budget gap.

“For the majority of the universities, this causes some notable change and pain,” Smith said. “I think we need to recognize this is just the first dose of it.”

The system faces great challenges, including a precipitous enrollment decline. Last year, enrollment fell below 100,000 for the first time since 2001. The system is in the middle of a redesign that officials hope will help the schools thrive.

The board for three hours discussed proposals being studied for that redesign, including more sharing of resources and services, which brought questions from some university presidents about the impact on the quality of their operations.

Under the tuition plan, in-state students, who make up nearly 90 percent of the system’s 100,000 students, will pay $7,716 in tuition and $478 in fees. Out-of-state tuition is set by individual campuses. Those students currently pay $11,574 to $19,290.

Universities in the state system are: Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Clarion, Cheyney, California, Indiana, Edinboro, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville, Slippery Rock, Shippensburg, West Chester, and Lock Haven.

The system last froze tuition in 1998-99.

Board members said they were appreciative of the 2 percent increase in state funding that the system received. But the appropriation of $477 million is still $29 million less than the system asked for.

Greenstein said he hopes the tuition freeze, along with progress on the redesign, will send a message to the legislature that the system is serious about making changes, but needs more help.

“This is not a sustainable model,” Greenstein said.

Asked how the system will close the more than $60 million budget gap, Greenstein said universities will have to look for savings and rely on reserves.

“It’s going to be tough, but I’m confident we’ll manage it, and we’ll manage it without impact on our students,” he said.

Michael Driscoll, president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and head of the system’s commission of presidents, said he supports the tuition freeze for this year.

“But the hard work is ahead, as many have said to make sure that we’re getting the reinvestment from the commonwealth to support high-quality education at a reasonable price for the students of Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’re all working to constrain costs as we go forward.”

Before the board voted, a group of students urged the board to freeze tuition, saying students cannot afford to shoulder more of the burden. Michaela Yurchak, who graduated in 2019 from Kutztown, said she was already more than $40,000 in debt.

Students urge the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's board of governors to hold the line on tuition.
Susan Snyder
Students urge the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's board of governors to hold the line on tuition.

Another student also underscored the financial pressure on students.

“I’m constantly at risk of dropping out, due to costs,” said Nathaniel Warren, 21, a student at Millersville.

Kenneth Mash, president of the statewide faculty union, said he understood it was a tough choice.

“I understand why they are making it,” he said. “I think it’s certainly good for the students at our universities.”

Temple University on Tuesday voted to freeze tuition and fees. Pennsylvania State University is scheduled to vote next week. Penn State froze tuition last year for the second time in less than five years.