A Civic Project story
By Cara Mehalek
INDIANA — In August 2013, Colleen A. Rorke, a petite, soft-spoken political science major from Tamaqua, Pa., transferred to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. To pay for her last two years of college, Rorke relied on grants, private and federal loans and part-time restaurant jobs. Her parents could not afford IUP tuition.
“Going to college in America is already astronomical in price,” the 2015 graduate wrote in a March 29 Facebook message. “I think more students would choose college if it was affordable and practical, but it isn’t.”
Now, Rorke said she must spend the next several years paying off $40,000 in student loans, a debt 30 percent deeper than Pennsylvania’s third-highest-in-the-nation average student debt of $31,675, according to the Keystone Research Center.
“It took me close to a year to find a fair-paying job (not in my field),” Rorke wrote.
RORKE’S DILEMMA is not unusual. Like other U.S. college students, she has had to pay increasing tuition rates and growing debt loads.
Total U.S. student loan debt in 2017 is $1.44 trillion owed by 44.2 million Americans, for an average individual debt of $32,579 and an average monthly payment of $351 for borrowers aged 20 to 30.
The burden has been a long time building on students and families. In Pennsylvania, for example, a generation ago the government paid most of the cost of public higher education in the Keystone State. Now, the burden has flipped: Most of it is shouldered by Pennsylvania students and families.
And the financial forecast is for more of the same.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on July 12 raised tuition rates at its 14 campuses by 3.5 percent in 2017-2018 to help close a $71.7 million budget gap.
IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling confirmed the hike for IUP students in an Aug. 16 interview in her Sutton Hall office.
As usual, this year’s overall 3.5 percent tuition hike topped the consumer price index, a gauge of the rate of change in the U.S. cost of living. (Between July 2016 and July 2017, the cost-of-living index rose 2 percent, significantly slower than the rate of increase in IUP tuition.)
But the new academic year’s tuition hit is lighter than the year before. That’s when, for the fall semester of 2016, amid enrollment declines, budgetary strains and gloomy revenue projections, the university stopped charging its traditional flat rate for full-time students and started charging per-credit.
In years past, IUP’s undergraduate catalog published the dollar amount that each student paid for full-time tuition per-semester. Under the new per-credit policy, calculating IUP tuition requires access to an IUP website where such items as state residency, number of credit hours, access to financial aid and other individual variables can be calculated.
In recent history, the resulting 2016-2017 price hike was unprecedented.
During the 2015-2016 academic year – the year before the rollout of the per-credit initiative – tuition for undergraduate in-state IUP students taking 12 through 18 academic credits cost a flat rate of $3,410 per semester, according to the IUP financial aid office’s website. (Figures do not include the costs of various fees for room, board, technology, activities, and numerous others. See sidebar, below.) For the 2016-2017 academic year, the first year of the per-credit policy, the cost for 15 credits (the median undergraduate credit hours per-student per-semester) rose to $4,045, a 19 percent increase.
The price hike was greater in one year than the increase over the preceding four years, when IUP tuition rose 18 percent — to $3,410 in academic year 2015-2016 from $2,902 in 2011-2012.
By comparison, it took a decade (July 2007-July 2017) for the U.S. consumer price index to rise 18 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In announcing the new per-credit pricing policy in spring 2016, university administrators said it would be “more equitable.”
“Student behaviors have changed, and we need a new and more equitable model to meet the needs of both our current and future students,” IUP President Michael A. Driscoll said in a March 25, 2016, posting on the IUP website. “We will closely monitor the impact of this program over the next three years.”
In an effort to soften the impact of the per-credit tuition hikes, IUP administrators announced discounted tuition rates across the board – a 7 percent discount in 2016-2017, 4 percent in 2017-2018 and 1 percent in 2018-2019.
Administrators also offered two additional softeners — need-based grants and scholarships. For the Academic Success Initiative scholarships, 1,889 students qualified. Twenty students were eligible for both the scholarship and the grant offerings. Fryling had no number for need-based grant recipients alone.
IUP tuition, 2007-2017
Academic year Tuition (@ 15 credits/semester)
Sources: IUP catalogs, IUP registrar, IUP bursar
CURRENT STUDENTS and recent alumni say they are monitoring the policy, too, and they are not persuaded that raising tuition was the way to achieve financial stability for the university and to provide affordable tuition for students.
“I feel bad for anyone who has to come here, because they have to deal with all of this,” said senior criminology student Nikole L. Reed in a March 29 interview at Stapleton Library. “I work two to three jobs. I had to take a semester off just to work to afford to come here the next year. This year, I had to work double because of the tuition increase.”
Reed said she receives student loans to help pay for tuition. She is among nearly 80 percent of PASSHE students who receive some form of financial aid, usually in a combination of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study jobs, according to PaSSHE.
IUP junior safety sciences student David E. James also is among them.
“My financial aid doesn’t change,” James said in a March 31 interview in Stapleton Library. “It doesn’t compensate for the fact that I’m getting charged more now.”
Sophomore English major Khalid A. Mostafa, from Egypt, pays even more for his residency status.
“My tuition is out-of-state, so it’s already more than double what in-state students pay,” said Mostafa in an April 4 interview in the Hadley Union Building. “This makes it much more stressful for my parents back home to be able to support me in my studies.”
Rorke, the 2015 IUP political science graduate, said the university’s tuition policy creates an image problem.
“In truth, I wish that IUP would not think of themselves as just a business,” Rorke wrote in a March 29 Facebook message. “They are only contributing to an already enormous problem.”
LAST MONTH, Kenneth M. Mash, president of the union that represents faculty members at PaSSHE schools, reacted to a July consultant’s report that recommended makeover of the state university system. Mash said Pennsylvania should consider a tuition-reduction plan like one under consideration in neighboring New York state.
“I’m willing to bet that our enrollment problems would disappear somewhat if the tuition was really reasonable,” Mash said. “Pennsylvania has to make a decision. Does it want to be in the group of states that are starting to do that for their students? Or do they want to turn their backs on this generation?”
Cara N. Mehalek, a senior majoring in journalism and geoscience at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Belle Vernon.
Sidebar: PaSSHE tuition, fees compared
Of 11 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities that charged a flat rate for tuition in academic year 2016-2017, nine charged the same amount — $3,619 per semester. Millersville University was an outlier at $3,696. Lock Haven charged $3,620. The mean among the nine was $3,626.
Of the three remaining PaSSHE campuses that charged per-credit for tuition in 2016-2017, Indiana University of Pennsylvania charged $290. Mansfield University charged $305. Shippensburg University charged $281.
Fees at PaSSHE universities range from $1,069 to $1,890 per-semester, with an average of $1,335, based on 15 academic credits per semester. For academic year 2017-2018, IUP will charge $1,394 in fees, or 4 percent more than the PaSSHE average.
Tuition for out-of-state, undergraduate students during the 2017-2018 academic year is $780 per credit, more than two and a half times the $300 charged to in-state students.
Sidebar: Links to costs at PaSSHE campuses
Following are web links to information on the cost of enrollment at each of the14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities:
• Bloomsburg: http://www.bloomu.edu/fees
• California: http://www.calu.edu/tuition-and-aid/costs/tuition-and-fees/
• Cheyney: http://www.cheyney.edu/bursar/documents/TuitionFeeSchedule2016-2017_Undergraduate.pdf
• Clarion: http://www.clarion.edu/tuition-and-financial-aid/tuition-and-fees/
• East Stroudsburg: http://www.esu.edu/students/enrollment_services/student_billing/tuition_fees/undergraduate_tuition.cfmb and vhttp://www.esu.edu/students/enrollment_services/student_billing/tuition_fees/index.cfm
• Edinboro: http://www.edinboro.edu/directory/offices-services/bursar/tuition-and-fees/
• Indiana: http://www.iup.edu/bursar/tuitionfees/undergraduate/
• Kutztown: https://www.kutztown.edu/costs-and-financial-aid/tuition-and-fees-(undergraduate).htm
• Lock Haven: https://www.lhup.edu/students/financialaid/overview/1617%20COA%20Budgets.pdf
• Mansfield: http://esd.mansfield.edu/tuition-and-fees/undergraduate-tuition-fees-new-student-1617.cfm
• Millersville: http://www.millersville.edu/osa/tuition-fees/index.php
• Shippensburg: http://www.ship.edu/Student_Accounts/Tuition_and_Fees/
• Slippery Rock: http://www.sru.edu/admissions/tuition-and-fees
• West Chester: https://www.wcupa.edu/_information/afa/fiscal/bursar/tuition.asp#UndergraduateInState
Sidebar: For more information
For more information about this story, contact the following sources:
IUP Bursar’s Office
Clark Hall, Lobby
1090 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Jennifer J. Fedele
IUP Registrar’s Office
1090 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Michael A. Driscoll
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Sutton Hall, Room 201
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Karen M. Whitney
Interim chancellor (effective Sept. 12)
Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education
Dixon University Center
2986 North Second Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110-1201
Phone: (717) 720-4028