Originally published on StateCollege.com.
The Board of Trustees wrapped up two days of action with the full board meeting on Friday, highlighted by a unanimous vote in favor of a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students.
The historic vote marks the first time in 49 years that the university has frozen tuition.
President Eric Barron has stressed the need for better access and affordability to a Penn State education since taking the reins just over a year ago, and backed up his talk in a big way on Friday.
“We are very proud of our graduation rate. But if you dig down you find something you’re not quite so proud of,” Barron says. “There’s a group of students working too much, taking a smaller credit load, spending more than four years on a degree, and taking out student loans to pay for school. So this is an incredibly important issue.”
The tuition freeze came just one day after Barron presented a budget proposal to the board’s finance committee with a 1.99 percent increase for in-state students, making for a surprise announcement during his report at the start of Friday’s meeting.
“Many people on the board were discussing what we were doing and why, and asked questions about if there was any way to push my agenda more quickly,” Barron said. “It became a matter of how much risk you want to accept. We presented that level of risk and many people signaled to me that they were willing to have me accept more risk, and that’s what we did, and that’s why we have $17 million for which we have not yet identified the cuts.”
Barron says there was a “wide range of opinions” on the idea of taking on more risk to freeze tuition for Pennsylvania residents, but eventually won over the board after suggesting the level of risk he was willing to take on in order to accomplish that goal.
“I hope that it shows a commitment to the educational goals of every part of this commonwealth,” he said. “An educated population makes a tremendous difference and for Penn State you have an access issue to an education that’s ranked among the top one percent in the world. Everyone supports fixing that, but it’s a question of the rate at which we get there, not whether or not we get there.”
The tuition schedule also includes 2.84 percent base aggregate increase for out-of-state students at the university along with a freeze on the Information Technology Fee for the first time in two decades. Barron intends to drive down that fee, which is currently $504, and eventually eliminate it.
The board also passed a $4.9 billion budget for the university and held elections for its leadership positions. Keith Masser and Anthony Lubrano were the two trustees nominated to chair the board, and Masser retained his position for the third time by a 25-10 vote.
“I am honored that you have entrusted me with the responsibility to lead this board for another term,” Masser said, “I owe a great debt to Penn State an institution that has provided my family with the education and resources to achieve professional success and personal satisfaction. I know every member of this board has an equally strong commitment to Penn State and that that is shown by we have full attendance here at this board meeting today.”
Ira Lubert and Alice Pope were the two nominations for vice-chair, and Lubert took the position by a 24-11 vote, replacing Kathleen Casey in that capacity.
The board also voted on an amendment to the provisions regarding emeriti trustees, adopting a new set of rules that make trustees eligible for the position after six years of service at the chair’s discretion if they served “with distinction.”
“One of the themes is that six years is only a qualifier to allow you to qualified to be an emeriti trustee,” Masser said. “It doesn’t preclude that you are. It just lets you in the pool and the theme was that quality of service should be more important than length of service.”
If named an emeritus trustee by the chair, you would have six years of service in which you attend all meetings and receive all information. After that period, emeriti trustees would attend meetings if invited and would be excluded from conversations including any sensitive or privileged information.
The board will meet again in two months on September 18 at University Park.