As you may have heard, last month the University of Pittsburgh surpassed Pennsylvania State University for having the most expensive tuition of any public higher learning institution in the country. While the U.S. Department of Education reported that the average in-state tuition at public four-year colleges was $8,256 a year ago (per the College Affordability and Transparency Lists), one could expect to pay in the neighborhood of $16,000 at Pitt.
So, how does the flagship university of the most livable city in America climb to the top of such an undesirable list? For starters, the University is not technically state owned, which is often the association made with being considered public. As Pitt is ‘state-related,’ less than 15% of the university’s budget is actually funded by Pennsylvania. In return for the funding they do receive, Pitt and other ‘state-related’ institutions such as Penn State and Temple, offer reduced tuition rates to Pennsylvania residents. The schools, however, operate privately and independently with full reign of their own assets. Such an arrangement is unparalleled by any other state country.
The rest of America may have avoided following this model with good reason. This public/private status may seem like the best of both worlds, but rather has helped guide Pitt’s assent to the top of this list. State related universities in Pennsylvania took a budget cut of 20% in 2011, and funding levels have hovered at that level ever since. Also, Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania’s 4th state related entity, are not held accountable to the same type of open record laws that the state owned universities are. This frequently makes them the subject of public scrutiny, as they are not currently required to be 100% transparent with the funding they receive.
Funding as a whole for higher education is severely lagging. While Pennsylvania can boast world-class institutions of higher learning like the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University, the governor defers to put any money in the commonwealth’s preverbal mouth to affirm their value. Last year Pennsylvania ranked 46th in per capita state support for higher education (per The Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University). This was a steady descent from 36th in the year 2000.
The University of Pittsburgh is indeed a world-class institution. Pitt has countless top 25 nationally recognized programs, including those for Biomedical Engineering, Medical Research, Audiology, Healthcare Management, Library & Information Sciences, Nursing and Social Work. With a tuition increase of 3.25% slated for the ’13-’14 academic year, however, Pitt can probably expect to remain on top of this pricey list for a little while longer.
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