Dorms, Deflection, and Disinformation
Report from the 17-18 February Penn State Board of Trustees Meetings
The February meetings of the Penn State Board of Trustees were held on February 17th and 18th at the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel. Although public access is mandated for all business meetings, they are often closed by the Chairperson citing discussions of “privileged and confidential” information.
I was able to attend all or part of the meetings. Here are my observations, which we can call the Three Ds;
Penn State Trustees raised the costs of Room & Board at all campuses by an average of 3.5% for next year. Trustees Lubrano, Paterno, and DeLevie were the only dissenting voices.
As we have discussed before, bizarrely priced dormitory projects ($500,000 per unit for the Abington dorms construction, $200,000 per unit for renovations to Main Campus/East Halls dorms), will be driving these increased charges to students for years to come. Future increases are only going to be steeper. Buckle up.
Meanwhile, the rank-and-file workers in the Housing and Food Services departments were limited to 2.5% annual pay increases.
As is usually the case, the meetings included a brief mention of “Access and Affordability” (translation: the issues surrounding the price of tuition). Penn State’s tuition for in-state students continues to be the highest in the Big Ten, and over $8,000 more per year than the average Big Ten university.
Contributing to that $8,000 per year overcharge, Penn State’s funding from the state comes in at about $1,500 less per student than her Big Ten peers. But the overwhelming majority of that $8,000 per year overcharge is, obviously, the sole responsibility of Penn State – NOT the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (as we have discussed in detail over the years).
Despite these facts, there was steadfast and unanimous commentary among the Trustees that the sole cause of Penn State’s high tuition costs was a lack of state support. Pointing the finger at the Commonwealth while refusing to acknowledge, let alone take responsibility for, Penn State’s own role is an all too familiar refrain and a continuation of a decade long deflection of responsibility on the part of the Board.
The posted agenda for the Finance Committee meeting included a discussion titled “Update on the Status of Borrowing and Remaining Debt Capacity”. As we have discussed before, since Eric Barron took over as Penn State President, Penn State’s debt has exploded from under $1 Billion, to nearly $3.5 Billion – an albatross that will weigh heavily on Penn State students – in the form of higher tuition – for a generation (at least) to come.
Paying the interest on that debt, let alone any future efforts to reduce the level of debt, have already become a significant strain on tuition charges (over $100 million last year alone). It would be nice to know how the Board plans to address this issue, or if they are even cognizant of the future implications, which will be massive. But, alas, the Committee Chairwoman, Mary Lee Schneider, kicked out the “public” (me) and declared a private, “privileged session” just as that topic, which was the final item on the agenda, was to be discussed.