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Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (right) took turns discussing the rising cost of college education at Penn State’s University Park campus on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Min Xian/Keystone Crossroads)

Third highest in the nation.

That’s how Pennsylvania ranks in the price of attending a public university according to the most recent report from College Board, with an the average cost of $14,770 for in-state tuition and fees in the 2018-19 academic year.

Agreeing that families and students in the state need relief, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, discussed how to address the issue before a crowd of dozens of students during an hour-long forum hosted by Penn State University’s Lion Caucus on Thursday evening.

Corman said running universities are “people businesses” and that the costs of business go up every year, making it difficult to control the costs. Fetterman said the issue needs “a realistic, workable solution.”

He emphasized that public universities need to keep operational costs down.

“The state budget probably increased by a percent and a half over the last decade per year. Higher education cost per year has probably increased about seven or eight percent. So, you know, the state is not going to keep up with them,” Corman said.

Asked about the possibility of a debt-free or tuition-free public higher education, both Corman and Fetterman said it would be an ideal, but questioned how that could be achieved financially.

Fetterman, a Democrat, said serious, bipartisan reform is needed, but didn’t have specifics.

“Pennsylvania — the tuition is too high. The debt load is too high,” he said. “I’m agnostic as to what the exact solution is, but I’m hopeful that both parties realize that this is an issue that really needs addressing.”

Penn State didn’t increase tuition for in-state undergraduate students last year, because the state upped its funding by three percent, but it is still one of the most expensive public universities in the country.

Sophomore Mariana Garcia, president of the Lion Caucus, helped organize the event.

“If there is any way we can get our state appropriations to subsidize our in-state tuition more, I feel like it would be even more accessible for more Pennsylvania students to enjoy the benefits of Penn State,” Garcia said. Her organization hopes there will be more higher education policies addressing cost issues.

Last week, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education approved a policy that gives each of the 14 schools the freedom to set their own tuition, in hopes that they can better allocate their resources.

Pennsylvania’s state support for the system covers less than a third of its costs. In budget hearings in February, PASSHE leaders said that’s about half the proportion of the national average for state schools.

 

Keystone Crossroads is a statewide reporting collaborative of WITF, WPSU and WESA, led by WHYY. This story originally appeared at https://whyy.org/programs/keystone-crossroads/.