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What will it take to bring Penn State Tuition costs under control? What can/should the PSU Board of Trustees do?

  • Post last modified:May 22, 2023


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In order to solve any problem, we must first achieve three things:

1) Understand the nature of the problem, and the damage it creates.

2) Understand the root cause(s) of the problem


3) Be willing to commit to a solution that addresses the problem at its’ source.


The Cliff’s Notes Version:

1) Understanding the nature of the problem, and the damage it creates:

Penn State’s Net Tuition Costs for In-State Students are the highest among the 13 Big Ten public Universities, and over TWICE AS MUCH as the average Big Ten school.

which has led to:

Penn State becoming prohibitively expensive for qualified Pennsylvania students of modest means.


Placing Penn State in a less competitive position for High-Achieving Academic candidates, leading to Penn State’s academic profile plummeting in recent years.


2) Understanding the root causes of the problem:

While there are several contributing factors, the greatest impact on tuition escalation is the exploding growth of non-academic administrative costs.

(There are other areas than can and should be addressed – Capital Spending, State Appropriations, Student Aid, and others – but the Administrative Bloat is, by far, the greatest factor)

3) Be willing to commit to a solution that addresses the problem at its source:

Penn State leadership MUST be MOTIVATED to address the issue.

If Penn State’s Leaders do not address the issue, Penn State will descend further into becoming a diploma mill – focused on maximizing revenue, and serving as a “retail outlet” for students willing to buy a diploma.


As a Governance Body – and not an administrative body – it is not within the purview of the Board of Trustees to dictate specific day-to-day administrative tasks.

It is, however, the indelible responsibility and duty of the Board of Trustees to assure that the Actions of the Administration are aligned with the Missions of the University.

As such, and because the most challenging aspect of solving the Tuition problem is generating the necessary level of commitment from PSU administration, the focus of the  five-point plan to address Tuition is to incentivize PSU leadership:
By aligning their personal interests with the mission of restoring fiscal discipline to the cost of tuition.


I previously wrote about this proposal here:

And the mandates of the plan are as follows:


1) 4-year freeze on Tuition and other Mandatory Fees charged to students.

2) Wage Freeze on all Administrative positions with salaries of over $150,000.

And, until Penn State Tuition, for Pennsylvania Residents, is less than or equal to 110% of the average in-state tuition for all Public Big Ten Universities


New enrollments of undergraduate students at Penn State University Park is composed of at least 75% In-State Students.

3) No creation of new non-academic administrative positions.

4) No filling of open non-academic administrative positions, without approved, quantitative justification wrt Penn State’s Educational and Research Missions.

5) All non-academic administrative positions with salaries over $200,000 will have salaries reduced by 5% every year.

The easiest and surest way to catalyze folks to “do their job”….. and perhaps the ONLY way to assure success at Penn State…. is to make sure the incentives of the Administration are aligned with the best interests of the University.


It should be noted that this approach is NOT a re-invention of the wheel – though it may feel very unusual for Penn State’s leadership.

Similar – in many cases, almost identical – programs have yielded tremendous success at other BigTen Universities.

It is well past time to change Penn State’s administrative culture of More Bloat : Less Discipline.



A deeper dive at some of the facts and figures:

Current data on tuition levels among Big Ten Universities

BigTen Financials 2018


Penn State:

In-State Tuition:
$18,436   Highest of the 13

Need and Merit Based Financial Aid:
$1,638   Lowest of the 13 

Net Tuition (Tuition minus Aid):

$16,798  Highest of the 13
More than double the average of $8,236


Meanwhile – and as one would expect, given the tuition discrepancy – the academic quality of Penn State’s incoming classes continues to plummet, relative to its Big Ten peers.

Penn State
– which, not so long ago, ranked behind only Michigan and Illinois for academic quality among its Big Ten peers –
is now TENTH in the Big Ten in academic quality of its incoming student body.

Penn State now comes in ahead of only Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Michigan State in academic quality…… and Penn State become less and less competitive each year.

big ten sat scores

How bad has the Penn State Administrative Bloat – the wasteful and duplicative expenditures that drive tuition costs higher and higher – gotten?

The following figures are from 2016 (the last year from which the data was publicly retrievable from Penn State). 

One can safely assume that the figures have grown even more grotesque over the least 3 years:

“Just a short time ago, for every 100 members of Faculty and Staff – – – the folks who actually engage in and support the University’s missions – – – Penn State employed 25 non-education and non-research related Administrators.


For every 100 folks performing the missions of the University, Penn State employs 50 non-education and non-research related Administrators.

And the bloating of the non-productive administrative bureaucracy grows worse every year.”



Anecdotally, but not surprisingly:

Penn State now has the most highly-paid President in the Big Ten.

Penn State also has the most highly-paid Athletic Director (now called Vice-President in Charge of Athletics) in the Big Ten.




Penn State used to Spend Tuition Dollars on Educating and Instructing Students. 

Figures from 1999/2000 Academic Year Budget:

tuition vs spending











Penn State receives $699 Million more in tuition and state funding, than what it spends Educating Students. 

Figures from latest (2017/2018) Academic Year Budget:


tuition 2018 UD


Apparently, when you want to be the National Leader in tuition charges, you have to spend a lot of money on administration.







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