Penn State closer to getting millions after House OKs bill on state subsidies, but with tuition free
Four of Pennsylvania’s top universities edged closer to receiving overdue state subsidies when the state House of Representatives approved their annual state subsidies on Tuesday, setting a condition that the schools freeze tuition next year.
The appropriation of about $643 million passed the House 145-57 and was sent to the state Senate, which is due back in session Nov. 13.
Funding for Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pittsburgh has been snarled in the Legislature for months over a partisan dispute involving fetal tissue research and public disclosure of school records.
Republicans have repeatedly stopped the appropriation from receiving the required supermajority to get it out of the Democratic-majority House. Critics chafed at the proposed 7% increase in light of rising tuition costs and said the universities should be held to higher transparency standards.
On Monday, the House approved a bill that would expand what the universities must disclose about their finances and budget under the Right-to-Know Law, addressing one of the Republicans’ concerns. The universities say they support the transparency changes.
A proposal to require the universities to freeze tuition for the 2024-25 academic year was a late addition to the bill, particularly lauded by Republicans.
“The days of blank checks to these universities must come to an end, and passing this legislation with a tuition freeze in it is good policy for our students and their families,” said Republican Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County.
Democrats, who tried to circumvent the necessary two-thirds vote for the state-related schools earlier this month, called the latest vote "option C.”
“We’re able to deliver for the universities, but we’re able to deliver for the students,” said Majority Leader Rep. Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County.
Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom in just about every measure for college affordability. Tuition rates are comparatively high, students tend to leave encumbered with more debt and the state provides a smaller subsidy for higher education.
Advocates say a lack of state aid is a big reason for Pennsylvania's higher tuition rates.
“We can’t tell our young people that they should go to institutions of higher education, particularly our institutions here in Pennsylvania, and then make it unattainable because it’s unaffordable,” said Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia.
Last week, the universities had sent a joint letter to leadership urging them to pass the funding, saying they were feeling strained without the money that helps pay in-state tuition. They said they had “done our very best” to address concerns about tuition increases, transparency measures and accountability.
“We hope these actions demonstrate our desire to be good partners with the Commonwealth,” they wrote.