Pitt ranks second in cost to attend public universities

By Alex Oltmanns

Pitt ranks second in the nation, at least, for how much it costs to attend compared to other… Pitt ranks second in the nation, at least, for how much it costs to attend compared to other public universities.

The Department of Education listed Pitt’s tuition last year, $14,154, as the second-most expensive nationally.

It’s unclear where Pitt will rank after this year’s 8.5 percent tuition hike as the most expensive public school — Penn State University at $14,416 — hasn’t announced its tuition yet.

Penn State’s tuition will likely also increase this year after the legislature cut about a fifth of both schools’ funding..

Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned schools are facing a tuition increase of 7.5 percent, which was approved by the governing board of the State System of Higher Education. None of those 14 schools made the department’s most-expensive list.

All 14 state schools have the same in-state tuiton of $5,804, except Cheyney University with an in-state tuition of $5,544.

The national average tuition among public schools is $6,397, less than half of Pitt’s and Penn State’s tuition.

The Department of Education compiled the list by conducting a survey for schools that participate in the department’s Title IV Student Aid Program, which includes any school that receives a type of federal funding for any type of funding or loans. For the past few years, these schools have been required to complete a survey where they report data such as tuition fees, graduation rates, enrollment, etc.

“In 2008, Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act that became the Higher Education Opportunity Act, and Congress in that bill asked us to compile these lists by July first of 2011,” Department of Education spokeswoman Sarah Gast said.

Gast said she couldn’t comment on how Pitt and Penn State would rank in similar lists in the near future without the knowledge of what other state schools are doing with their tuition rates.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele, and other Pitt officials, attributed the ranking to a low level of state support for higher education — 46th lowest in the country.

Patricia Beeson, provost and senior vice chancellor, said that Pitt ranks so high in the price-of-tution list because it’s in a state that’s in the bottom five in regard to state support for higher education.

“The ranking isn’t just tuition, it’s negative ranking of state support,” Beeson said.

In a statement released by the University after the list was published, administrators said that even with drastic cuts in state funding Pitt has still managed to maintain its high academic standing..

“Despite a decade of declining state support, Pitt has been able to maintain its place as one of the world’s leading public research universities. The University has been diligent in implementing cost savings through energy conservation, strategic purchasing, administrative restructuring, programmatic consolidation and elimination and other efficiencies. In addition, the University implemented a salary freeze in [fiscal year] 2010 for all faculty and staff.”

According to the list, 22 of the top 30 four-year public schools for highest tuition are in Pennsylvania.

“These facts reflect the Commonwealth’s de-emphasis on higher-education funding during the past decade,” the statement said.

But Fedele said it should be pointed out that Pitt has twice been ranked this year as a “Best Value” public school, once by the USA Today and The Princeton Review and again by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. And in

The Princeton Review Best Value Colleges for 2011, Pitt was Pennsylvania’s only “Best Value” public institution of higher education.

With tuition already high — and on the rise — the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency will try to help to ease the burden on the wallets of families with students at these universities.

They are using a $50 million public service contribution to cover a 2 percent cut from the state. The contribution is set to increase the maximum grant Pennsylvania students can receive to $4,309, an increase of $807 from last year.

“The good thing for students at Pitt who may be dealing with an increase in tuition is that the maximum grant award has gone up significantly,” PHEAA spokesman Keith New said on Tuesday of the grant, which was already approved in June before the tuition hike was announced.

“All we’re trying to do across the board for all students is to help create access and choice for higher education through the state grant program and other programs we administrate here,” New said.