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April 17, 1997

House votes for tuition cap with steep penalty for exceeding limit

When Gov. Tom Ridge recommended increasing Pitt's state appropriation by 2 percent ($2.97 million) under his proposed 1997-98 budget, University administrators complained that the amount was significantly less than what Pitt will need next year.

But they thanked Ridge for proposing to increase Pitt's budget with no strings attached in the form of the state's Tuition Challenge Grants Program.

Since the 1980s, most of Pitt's state appropriation increases have been tied to the program, which awarded increases to state-supported universities only if they kept their tuition hikes to a state-specified level. Ridge left the tuition cap plan out of his proposed budget for next year.

But this month, the state House of Representatives approved a budget amendment that would reinstate the tuition cap plan – with a vengeance.

Under the amendment, a state-funded university would not get any state educational and general (E&G) money next year unless it held its tuition hikes for Pennsylvania resident students to 4.5 percent or less.

In other words, if Pitt raised its in-state tuition by more than 4.5 percent next fall, the University would sacrifice its entire E&G appropriation, not just an increase in it. Pitt's E&G funding for the current fiscal year is $132.2 million.

To take effect, the amendment also needs approval from the state Senate and the governor's office.

Dennis P. McManus, assistant vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, called the House plan "punitive" and said Pitt and its fellow state-related universities (Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) are lobbying against it, as are Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned schools.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and heads of Pennsylvania's other state-funded universities and community colleges argued against the House plan – in addition to making pitches for appropriations higher than those proposed by Gov. Ridge – during an April 7 meeting in Harrisburg with leaders of the House and Senate caucuses.

McManus said he doesn't know how likely the Senate and governor will be to approve the House plan. "Obviously, tuition cap plans tend to be attractive to many people at a time when the price of a college education is rising higher than the rate of inflation," McManus noted. But he said Pitt's administration has always opposed the Tuition Challenge Grants Program, in its various forms over the years, for two major reasons: Ä The program tends to discriminate against research universities like Pitt which enroll proportionately more graduate students and maintain a larger number of comparatively high-cost graduate programs than most of Pennsylvania's other state-funded universities.

Ä By capping tuition, the program gives Pennsylvania lawmakers control over Pitt's two main sources of unrestricted revenue – the state appropriation and tuition.

– Bruce Steele

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