Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hintz Hints at a Problem

Something happened this past weekend at the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting in Washington DC which you don't often see:a free exchange of ideas. The issue which was addressed was Penn State's high tuition, the highest public university tuition in the nation. Here is Trustee Edward Hintz, a former chairman of the board, on the topic.
“It’s something that we, as a group, are concerned with and talk about every year,” he said of rising tuition. “And we don’t do much; we just send (the increases) through and wring our hands."
Hintz seems to be saying that the BOT has abdicated its responsibility to keep tuition in line by signing-off on tuition increases on a year-by-year basis. But the actual situation is far worse than that. Increasing tuition to meet costs +1% has been an official University policy since July of 2002 when Hintz chaired the board.

This year's [2002-2003] tuition increase followed the 1 percent catch-up plan described in the Tuition Task Force report, which was released in April. The 1 percent catch-up plan involves increasing costs plus 1 percent to improve rankings in areas such as faculty salaries.
The abandonment of the University's land-grant mission can be traced to that report.

Here is the charge to the Tuition Task Force by Graham.
While Commonwealth appropriations have become a progressively smaller share of the University's budget for several decades, Penn State has faced significant cost increases for salaries and benefits, capital improvements and maintenance, information technology, and library materials, as well as other cost drivers. Despite substantial and continuing cost-cutting measures, tuition has had to increase substantially for many years in order for Penn State to remain competitive with our peer institutions in terms of the quality of educational experience we provide. Quality must remain a cornerstone principle even as we consider issues of affordability and accessibility that have long been a part of our mission as a public and land-grant university.
To summarize: Quality first; Access and affordable if you can do it. I have nothing against quality, but my guess is that this was really about maintaining Graham's building campaign.

The task force laid out a number of principles consistent with Graham's charge to it which were used to formulate their recommendations. The most notable on being
Tuition policies and practices should be set in the context of market considerations in higher education, policies of peer institutions, and the competitive environment of various Penn State campuses.
That is charge what the market will bear. The land-grant mission of the University was a secondary consideration.
In accordance with Penn State's land-grant mission, tuition should be held to the lowest level consistent with continually enhancing the academic quality of the University.
The primacy of the market in setting tuition was the death knell of the land-grant mission.

And by the way, when this report was issued Penn State had the distinction of having the highest tuition of the public universities in the Big Ten. It wasn't until after the report was implemented that it achieved the distinction of having the highest tuition of any public university in the country.

High tuition at Penn State is no accident. It's the plan.

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