The conventional wisdom ever since March 8, when Gov. Tom Corbett made his budget address, has been very simple: The sky is falling! How, exactly? In the form of crippling tuition increases at our public universities. Why? Because the governor and his allies in Harrisburg decided it was time to tighten the budgetary belt, not raise taxes.
The cries that the sky is falling have continued to echo through this past Friday, when Penn State University’s board voted to raise in-state tuition for the main campus by 4.9 percent. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, reported that the university did this while “[c]oping with a nearly 20 percent drop in state funding.” But in so doing, the Inquirer and others missed the real story, which is: This year’s tuition increase was the smallest in years.
In fact, according to numbers pulled by my intrepid colleague Nate Benefield, 4.9 percent is a little over half the average Penn State tuition increase since 2001 (8.4 percent) and the lowest during that period. The sky didn’t fall!
Of course, as we noted over and over, there are many actions Penn State and Pennsylvania’s other public universities could have taken to keep tuition the same or even lower it. But the course of action Penn State did take makes one thing very clear: Universities will spend exactly as much money as they think they can. This year, their estimation of that number went down, and it’s about time.