EDITORIAL: Pa. State System takes right step to curbing crazy tuition rates

The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·2 min read

Apr. 18—There is a lot of talk about how to handle student loan debt.

There are the loans the students take out. There are the loans the parents take out to help. The Federal Reserve estimates Americans have about $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.

Student loans are an overwhelming burden that makes people a third less likely to get a mortgage or car financing. It can affect the apartment someone is able to afford. It can ruin credit, making it hard to get a job.

But it's an unfortunate fact of life for people who have to get loans to afford the education that gets them certain jobs.

Penn State President Eric Barron frequently has said the best way to control student debt is keeping students on the path to finishing in four years rather than five or six.

He is almost right.

The best way to control debt is to reel in the explosive growth of tuition over the past 20 years.

U.S. News & World Report has pegged tuition growth over that period at an average of 144%. Pennsylvania is among the most expensive in the nation — in part because of the number of large research universities and well-respected (read: pricey) private colleges. Pitt and Penn State have relatively high in-state tuition; Carnegie Mellon ranks among the more expensive schools in the nation.

In recent years, the schools have tried to keep those costs from escalating. Penn State has frozen tuition at several campuses — sometimes all of them — for most of the past six years. Pitt did the same in 2020. In February, Carnegie Mellon announced a 2021-22 freeze of its $57,560 annual cost for undergraduates.

Now, the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education are doing the same. The Board of Governors made that announcement Thursday, holding tuition at $7,716 per year — or $319 per credit at Indiana University of Pennsylvania — for the coming year.

For many taking this step this year or last, there was a thought toward the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. That is a huge, global issue and should be considered seriously.

The universities also should be looking at the pause on the ravenous expansion of tuition because of the domino effect it has on students, their families and the economy.

Universities are economic engines that can drive their communities and their states in positive directions. The major colleges and smaller schools of Pennsylvania do that every day.

But they also have the ability to model compassion, restraint and fiscal responsibility. Tuition control — and perhaps, someday, a decrease — is a good way to do that.

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