With so much uncertainty over when — and how — college classes will resume this fall, students and parents at least got some help in the planning process when the board overseeing Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities agreed to a tuition freeze for the 2020-21 school year.

Freezing tuition in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic will at least add some small measure of stability for the nearly 96,000 students who attend the state schools and those planning to enroll in the next year or two. The board also agreed to a tentative increase of 1% for the following school year, the first time the State System of Higher Education has set tuition for two years.

Most universities are opting to freeze tuition for the upcoming year because of the financial turmoil brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the related surge in unemployment with some 36 million Americans now out of work. Officials at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University are also considering tuition freezes for the upcoming year.

The financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis has hit universities nationwide, with campuses closed and schools scrambling to develop online teaching plans that may be required for some time. Although the Pennsylvania schools would like to be open for the fall semester, they also realize that may not be possible and are preparing different contingencies that could include extended periods of online learning.

Unfortunately, some students may be reluctant to use online learning and may opt to wait until the crisis passes and schools reopen their campuses. Others may find themselves and their families under financial duress and decide to delay their education for a time.

The state-owned schools are preparing for an overall drop in enrollment, expected to be at least 3.6% but could go as high as 10%. Even with a bargain-priced annual tuition of $7,716, state system administrators know they face serious challenges in keeping all 14 campuses operating profitably in the midst of an anticipated enrollment decline.

The Western Pennsylvania schools in the state system — California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock — have long been popular destinations for graduating high school students. The tuition freeze for this year and limited increase for the following year will help many to afford a college education in these uncertain times.

 

— By the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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