Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

July 24, 2003

Trustees vote to raise tuition by 9.5 percent, delay approving operating budget

Pitt will raise tuition by 9.5 percent for in-state students and 7.5 percent for out-of-staters beginning this fall.

Pitt delayed approving an overall operating budget for fiscal year 2004, including employees’ compensation, pending passage of the commonwealth’s educational appropriations. But officials said that setting tuition rates could not be prolonged since students and parents need to plan their finances and need “lead time” to apply for financial aid for the fall term.

In dollars, the increase brings two-term tuition for undergraduate Arts and Sciences in-state students to $8,614, a hike of $747; for out-of-state A&S undergrads, tuition rose to $17,926, an increase of $1,250.

The 9.5 and 7.5 percent rates of increase apply across Pitt’s 16 schools and four regional campuses, except for students in the medical and dental schools’ first professional programs and medicine’s graduate students, who will see a 5 percent raise.

Pitt officials pointed to selected national institutions that have raised tuition this year by double digits, such as the State University of New York, Indiana University, and the universities of Kansas, Virginia and Wisconsin, and to other institutions that have approved comparable or lower tuition increases than Pitt’s, but start from a higher base fee, such as Carnegie Mellon, George Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Student fees here were not raised this year, Pitt officials noted, adding that the pool of available need-based student financial aid was increased by $8 million, to total over $101 million.

The new tuition fee schedules were approved at a July 14 joint meeting of the Board of Trustees budget and executive committees.

The 9.5 percent increase falls on the heels of last year’s 14 percent hike and the previous year’s 7.5 percent increase for in-state undergraduates.

At a press conference following the board’s actions, Pitt officials, including Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, defended the tuition increase.

Noting that applications have been rising dramatically and student quality has been increasing as measured by SAT scores and high school class rankings, Nordenberg said that students, including prospective students, “continue to believe the University of Pittsburgh provides very good value for the tuition that is charged.”

The tuition increase was necessary, he said, due to a number of factors, including hefty increases in labor and operating costs, such as the cost of employee health insurance, and Pitt’s commitment to maintain quality to remain competitive for students and faculty with peer and other higher education institutions.

Pitt also faces diminished state funding, Nordenberg said. “The governor’s recommendation is a 5 percent reduction from last year’s authorized appropriation levels, which will take us down to about $163 million from a high of $178 million a couple years ago. This is a $14 million-$15 million reduction in real dollars,” he said. That means that the state will be funding 12.3 percent of Pitt’s overall operating budget, he added, which is down from 18 percent in 1995 and from a high of almost 34 percent in 1975.

“We’re hopeful that there may be a restoration of some of that reduced amount in the days ahead, [and] that’s one reason that we did not move forward to approve the budget in its entirety [July 14].” He added that it was very unlikely Pitt would adjust tuition rates regardless of what the final state appropriation numbers are.

Nordenberg maintained that Pitt was doing its part to compensate for a sagging economy and reduced state support. “We know that our resources will always be limited and we accept the fact that we are expected to do more with less,” he said.

As part of what he called Pitt’s “culture of cost-effectiveness” developed over the last several years, the chancellor pointed to the institution-wide facilities and technology plans, a 1998 faculty retirement incentive plan, energy conservation measures and last year’s $8 million internal budget reductions.

“The steps we’ve taken with the support of the board and its committees to deal with these factors are reasonable and prudent, and most importantly they position us to continue delivering the kind of value that students and others expect,” Nordenberg said.

He said Pitt considered but rejected tiered tuition schedules that are being used increasingly in higher education institutions, including Penn State and Carnegie Mellon, which now apply different tuition fees for new and continuing students.

Penn State, for example, raised base tuition by 9.8 percent for in-state students (now up to $8,615), but will charge an additional $500 for all new students and $180 for all upperclassmen and graduate students.

Pitt’s tuition increase “is across the board to all students, as is customary in higher education,” Nordenberg said. “We did not build into our plans for the next year any of the kinds of surcharges that have been imposed on entering students at some other institutions.”

He added that, while the percentage hike for in-state students is higher than for out-of-state students, the out-of-staters will be paying more in real dollars. He said Pitt would like to maintain an overall ratio of close to 2:1 for tuition fees between the two groups.

Of the most recent tuition hike, Pitt Student Government Board member Todd Brandon Morris said this week: “We [on SGB] recognize that there is only so much the University can do to hold down tuition costs when Harrisburg continues to cut our funding, and at the same time the University continues to try to provide us with the same level of education that we’ve come to expect.”

But other students tend to be less forgiving of Pitt’s administration, Morris said. While most students are away from campus during the summer — and many won’t learn of the new tuition rates until they get their bills next month — those who have contacted SGB have voiced anger and frustration, according to Morris, a junior majoring in economics.

“Especially after the high tuition increases we had last year and in other recent years, a lot of students are saying: ‘Enough is enough,’” he said.

SGB’s position is that Harrisburg lawmakers won’t give universities a larger share of state funds until students unite as a voting bloc.

Morris, who chairs SGB’s Get Out the Vote campaign, said the campaign will focus this fall on electing the candidate for Allegheny County executive who most strongly supports Pitt and affordable tuition for its students.

“Last fall, our focus was on the governor’s election,” said Morris. “We got a good turnout [of student voters] but our impact wasn’t so great because it was a state-wide election. At the county level, though, Pitt students have enough votes to swing the election one way or the other. It would be a good first step in showing that we’re a political force.”

Todd Ridley, president of the College of General Studies (CGS) Student Government, which represents many of Pitt’s “non-traditional” students — including older, part-time students with full-time jobs — said next fall’s tuition increases will leave his constituents feeling further squeezed, financially, at a time when companies are eliminating positions and cutting back on fringe benefits, including tuition reimbursement.

“A lot of CGS students hear that tuition will be going up by $747 for two semesters and they think: ‘That’s equivalent to an additional rent payment, maybe even two payments for some people. Where am I going to find the money? Should I work longer hours? Should I take fewer classes?’” said Ridley.

Ridley said that he and many other CGS students understand the trickle-down economics behind Pitt tuition hikes in recent years: federal funding to the states is down, as are Pennsylvania revenues and Harrisburg’s appropriations to the University. “But the bottom line is that, justified or not, these tuition increases are causing real hardship” among students, he said.

But Ridley, a senior majoring in public administration, said he and other CGS students remain convinced that a Pitt degree is worth the sacrifices, financial and otherwise. “Myself, I’ll probably have to take out more loans, but I still believe it’s a good long-term investment,” he said.

At the press conference, Nordenberg declined comment when a reporter asked whether it was appropriate for the chancellor to accept a 13. 9 percent pay increase and retention incentive bonus last December in the current climate of tuition hikes.

But Provost James V. Maher leaped to the chancellor’s defense. He said Pitt is committed to offering competitive salaries to all of its employees and has established a regional benchmarking system for staff and a national one for all ranks of faculty. “We’ve caught the staff up to the benchmark about two years ago; the faculty are not up to the benchmark yet, but we’ve shown real progress in the last couple years,” Maher told reporters.

Pitt’s Board of Trustees decided to apply the same evaluation process to the administration, Maher said, by benchmarking Pitt’s against other universities’ administrations. “They did that this past year. They did it in good faith, and it’s the same process that’s being applied to everybody at the University. What they discovered was that the chancellor of the University was way, way, way behind the benchmark, farther behind the benchmark than almost any other category,” Maher said. “You can disagree with it, but I do think you need to respect the fact that this is much more a part of careful analysis than you’re giving it credit for.”

—Peter Hart & Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply