(The Center Square) — The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education said no decision on a tuition freeze will come until this summer.

As budget negotiations between the General Assembly and the governor continue, PASSHE officials said they’ll wait and see what comes their way.

The state budget faces a June 30 deadline, but legislative leaders have warned that a “responsible” spending plan for the Pennsylvania state college system is more important than an “on time” one.

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“Maybe it’s just because, in my fifth tuition discussion, I really don’t wanna — I’ve escaped having to promote a tuition increase and I don’t want to do it,” Chancellor Dan Greenstein said during the system’s quarterly meeting on Thursday. “So, I’m not going to make a recommendation.”

Before the meeting, lawmakers encouraged the system to freeze tuition for the fifth year in a row. In a joint statement, Senate Republican leadership said raising rates would make college less accessible and “directly contradict PASSHE’s mission.”

The Pennsylvania state college system cannot raise costs and still expect more state support, they added.

Greenstein, however, argued that the system needs the state’s money to “buy down” tuition hikes. Freezing costs an additional $96 million, he said, and the system’s inflationary budget strategy has diverted $32 million toward the effort. The missing $64 million must either come from a 7.5 percent tuition hike or more state funding.

Without the $64 million, Greenstein said, the Pennsylvania state college system will return “to patterns that we know, but we don’t love.”

“Where we increase tuition to make up for underfunding from the state,” he said. “But we can’t increase tuition enough to carry the costs because our students can’t afford it.”

Legislative leaders have warned that a “responsible” spending plan is more important than an “on time” one.

PASSHE has asked for $573.5 million in the next fiscal year, a $21 million increase (3.8 percent), along with $112 million for targeted student support. The support, system officials say, “would strategically increase financial aid for students preparing for jobs with worker shortages,” according to a press release. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget includes a 2% increase for PASSHE, as The Center Square previously reported.

Last year, PASSHE leaders celebrated a $70 million (sixteen percent) budget increase along with a one-time $125 million investment and a $25 million boost from the American Rescue Plan, articulating a plan to boost enrollments by twenty percent. 

Greenstein has warned of the state’s talent gap, and is positioning PASSHE as a way to train non-traditional students for careers in education, health care, social services, business, and the STEM fields.

PASSHE enrollment has fallen by more than twenty percent since 2010 as Pennsylvania’s high-school-aged population has dropped. At the same time, debt has built up at most PASSHE schools due to a dorm-building boom, as The Center Square previously reported.

In recent years, the system navigated a multi-million-dollar redesign that consolidated fourteen schools into ten and cut $300 million in operating costs. More cannot be slashed, officials say, without impacting the student experience.

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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