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Will Pennsylvania pay the price for colleges’ tuition border wars? | News, Sports, Jobs

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The State University of New York is making it plain that it sees Pennsylvania’s high school students as an interstate commodity.

“If your high schooler wants to go to college in New York, the State University of New York offers the same in-state tuition as Penn State,” SUNY said in a tweet.

The ad is popping up frequently on social media for parents whose kids are facing the choice of where to apply.

SUNY isn’t alone. While most state universities charge one tuition rate for residents and another for those crossing the border, it isn’t unusual to have a different rate for a border state or to have a reciprocity agreement that lowers the tuition for students in a geographical area, a specific program or as part of an exchange.

What is worth noting is the specific target that Penn State has placed on its back. It should also be realized that, while Penn State is spelled out in the ad, there are other schools unwritten between the lines.

The $19,286 that it costs to attend Penn State’s University Park campus is $1,000 less than the $20,362 it costs to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Temple University is close behind. Both are state-related universities in a similar category to Penn State, the state’s only land-grant university.

In 2017, then-Auditor General Eugene DePasquale audited Penn State and came back with a number of scathing findings, not the least of which was a caution about the university’s “tuition problem.”

The issue was not just the back-breaking cost of an education for a resident student but the increased reliance on subsidizing that cost with an even more crippling out-of-state or out-of-country tuition. That higher cost made those students even more attractive.

“In essence, the university can get more ‘bang for its buck’ by increasing the number of nonresident students,” DePasquale found.

Five years later, Penn State — and other Pennsylvania schools — are reaping the returns.

But SUNY and others are not doing it by gathering Keystone State students like wheat. They are treating them as valuable and equal.

Does it matter where the kids go to school? Yes. Pennsylvania’s colleges are top notch, but that doesn’t matter if they are left behind by students choosing to go to New York instead.

It also exacerbates the problem of brain drain — when a state loses its college students to another state for jobs. If they are already going to Albany for undergrad, why not stay there for work? That, in turn, impacts the state’s population shift, which is already skewing towards an aging demographic with fewer workers to support it.

Only time will tell how many of the students SUNY’s campaign will woo away from Penn State, Pitt and Temple. However, while this campaign is new, the problem is old, and all of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions need to take it seriously.

— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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