Pitt sets tuition increase at 8.5 percent

By Brendan Owens

Pitt’s tuition will increase 8.5 percent this year for in-state students and 4 percent for… Pitt’s tuition will increase 8.5 percent this year for in-state students and 4 percent for out-of-state students as part of the University’s $1.94 billion budget announced Friday.

Tuition for a full academic year will go up $1,196 for Pennsylvania residents, from $14,076 to $15,272, while out-of-state students’ tuition will increase to $24,680, up $948 from last year. This marks the largest in-state tuition increase at Pitt since 2003, when tuition went up by more than $1,500.

But Pitt students will get a little more help in the fall. Pitt’s financial aid budget will increase by $13 million, and more than $163 million in financial aid should be made available in the next fiscal year, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said at the Board of Trustees Executive Committee meeting that decided the budget.

The $13 million extra in financial aid comes from reserves and discounted tuition, said Patricia Beeson, provost and senior vice chancellor, on Tuesday.

Beeson said that the money didn’t go toward the tuition hike because “this allows us to target it more to those who need it.”

The state financial aid agency will also increase its grants for the next year.

“We put a priority on trying to shoulder as much of the load as we could and we had pledged not to put the entire weight of these reductions … onto the shoulders of our students,” Nordenberg said. “We did meet that pledge with the budget that was approved today.”

Pitt officials said that the tuition hike would cover 40 percent of a $40 million cut in state aid to the University, while the rest will be covered by reduced spending. The Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee also approved a 2 percent salary increase for Pitt employees.

Faculty members making less than $40,000 per year will enjoy their increase retroactive to July 1, while those making more than that amount won’t see their increase until Jan. 1.

Nordenberg and other board members blamed the rise in tuition on Pitt’s appropriations bill that Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law on June 30. The other three state-related universities face similar funding cuts, but among them only Temple University has announced its in-state tuition rate for the fall — a 10 percent increase.

In addition, Pitt’s tuition last year ranked as the second most expensive public university in the country, after Penn State University which has not yet announced its tuition for the fall.

The University’s appropriation thisi year marks the largest decrease in Pitt’s state funding in more than a decade. The total appropriation — $136 million — is nearest to Pitt’s 1993 appropriation of $135 million. Last year, the University received more than $184 million, including more than $10 million in federal stimulus funds that ran out this year.

Pitt saw cuts totaling more than $40 million across various programs — a 22 percent reduction in state support. This includes the 19 percent reduction to general appropriation and a 50 percent reduction to Pitt’s academic medical center funding.

Nordenberg said that Pennsylvania ranked 46th out of 50 states for per capita support for higher education before the most recent cuts.

Pitt also faces unavoidable expense increases, such as health insurance, facilities costs, technology improvements and licensing fees, according to a statement sent out by the University after the meeting.

The estimated $30 million it would cost for these investments is expected to create a total budget gap exceeding $70 million, Nordenberg said in a statement issued at the meeting.

That gap will be covered by cost-cutting, budget adjustments and increased revenue streams, including tuition, said Art Ramicone, Pitt’s vice chancellor for budget and controller.

Nordenberg was visibly upset at the meeting and said that it was difficult for him to break the news to students and staff about Pitt’s funding after the amount was finalized.

“It was a dark day for Pitt and for all of higher education — not only because of the steep budget cuts, but because of the lack of regard for the work we do, which seemed to be reflected in those proposals,” he said.

Student Government Board president Molly Stieber was also upset about the budget cuts and said she worried about higher education under the new governor.

“It is clear that Pitt didn’t put the entire burden of the tuition increase on students. They could have made a higher percentage, which I really appreciate,” Stieber said. “Higher education is not a priority [in Harrisburg], and that is the problem.”

Stieber and other student leaders across the state organized protests of the governor’s proposed 50 percent cuts to higher education funding — efforts which largely died off at the end of the school year.

Even though student fees will remain the same along with Pitt’s tuition structure — which does not change based on a student’s year — recent graduate Brad Heibert said this was not enough.

“It’s like a bucket of water. They are going to keep raising tuition adding drop after drop after drop. One day it’s going to overflow and become unattractive,” Heibert said. “Pitt is a good school. Our academics are rising with the prices, but it’s going to get to the point where it’s so expensive that kids aren’t going to want to go to Pitt and [instead] go to a comparable school that is less expensive.”