Is Penn State tuition too expensive?

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Is Penn State tuition too expensive?

The Pennsylvania State University is one of the biggest state universities in the nation, with over 40,000 students currently enrolled in that university system. It is also a very old school, with its 150th birthday coming up in the year of 2005. Over the last one and a half century, Penn State has produced the most number of alumni in the world. In my major, meteorology alone, famous alumni such as Jon M. Nese, Greg Forbes, and Joe Bastardi are contributing their invaluable knowledge to the world in the science of meteorology. They are often seen in the national broadcasts. These are some of the major factors attracting perspective students to attend Penn State. Do you ever think about the cost of attending Penn State since Penn State is one of the most expensive public institutions in the United States?

Let’s consider how expensive Penn State is for students. Is it worth as much as $20,000 per year for in-state residents, and is it worth as much as $30,000 per year for students living outside of Pennsylvania? More and more students change their final decisions due to the expensive cost of attending specific colleges or universities. Towards these issues, I will perform a detailed evaluation so that students can be informed about the cost of tuition at Penn State.

First of all, comparing the price tags of going to Penn State and other similar colleges will provide a basic sense on how expensive Penn State is relative to others. For Midwestern public universities that have nearly the same sizes in enrollment compared to Penn State, the tuition of Penn State is by far more expensive than those Midwestern colleges. Let’s consider Michigan State University, with an enrollment of nearly 35,000. The in-state tuition for Michigan State University is about $6,700, while the out-of-state tuition is close to $16,700 (Michigan 2004). On the other hand, Penn State—University Park, has a student population of nearly 34,000 students. The in-state and out-of-state tuitions at Penn State are at least $2,000 more than the tuitions for attending Michigan State (PSU Registrar 2004). Penn State’s annual tuition is 30% more expensive than some public universities in the Midwest. One may argue that the difference in tuition is due to the location of the universities. This is not true at all, and I will provide evidence that will show that there is a weak or no correlation between the public university’s location and the tuition rate.

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Let’s choose public state universities in states that are neighboring Pennsylvania, such as Ohio, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. From the undergraduate catalog of Ohio State University-Columbus, the annual tuition varies from $6,500 in-state, to $16,500 out-of-state (Ohio 2004). From the admissions office of SUNY, the largest public university system in New York State, the annual tuition is relatively low. In-state tuition is $4,300, while out-of-state tuition tops at $10,000 (SUNY 2004). It is a similar case in the state of New Jersey. The Rutgers University financial aid office announced that the current in-state and out-of-state tuition stand at $5,700 to $11,700 (Rutgers 2004). In the First State, the University of Delaware requires students to pay $5,800 to $16,000 for tuition annually, depending on the students’ state of residence (UD 2004). To attend the University of Maryland, the financial office only charges in-state students about $4,500 and out-of-state students nearly $13,300 every year (UMD 2004). Comparing these tuition costs to Penn State’s annual tuition, the nearby area public universities offer students higher education with better bargains. Students who go to state universities in states adjacent to Pennsylvania can save generally $2,000 to $4,000 annually. In extreme cases, students can pay $8,000 less if they are willing to go to universities in New York instead of Penn State. Therefore, the skyrocketing tuition rate at Penn State can’t be blamed on the mid-Atlantic region it is located in, since other public universities in the same region offer lower tuition costs. What makes going to Penn State even more costly is the tuition hikes that took place in the past few years.

The inflation rate is a generally good indicator of the national increase in prices and salaries, and it is useful to analyze whether Penn State tuition is growing faster than how much more people can earn. In the last five years, the United States inflation rate was fluctuating between 1.5% and 3.4% (US Bureau of LR 2004). From the Penn State Office of the Registrar, the current in-state tuition is approaching $10,500 per year, while the out-of-state tuition is about $20,500 every year (PSU Registrar 2004). About five years ago, the annual tuition for in-state residents was barely over $3,000, and for out-of-state residents was just $6,600 (PSU Registrar 1999). The tuition now is threefold of the tuition five years ago. Base on the above figures, the average inflation rate of Penn State’s tuition is between 25% and 30% every year. The rate of increase in the tuition is even greater than the rate of increase in stock prices and mortgages during economic booms. Penn State’s tuition is increasing 8-20 times faster than the average Americans’ income is likely to increase. For the tuition to increase at such a fast rate there must be underlying reasons.

The reasons for the expensive tuition are because of minimal state funding, renovations of buildings on campus, and the expansion of the university territory. Since the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has reduced funding to education continuously so that more funding can be devoted to the defense and national security sectors (US Treasury 2004). The state government receives less funding as a result, and therefore appropriates less funding for Penn State. With a decrease in funding, Penn State has to increase the tuition so that the budget can be balanced. Also, there are nearly 20 renovation and expansion projects going on in the University Park Campus. The newly built IST building and the Earth and Engineering Science building are good examples of these huge projects. The total costs of these projects easily exceed $1 billion (PSU-Physical Plant 2004). To pay for these projects, Penn State has to raise money from students by increasing the tuition. Penn State is going to cost more in the future, will students be able to afford it?

Students may have great financial burdens to afford the expensive tuition while attending Penn State. In average, students will receive at most $3,000 in scholarships annually while attending Penn State, while the current tuition rate is $18,000 for in-state students and $28,000 for out-of-state students (PSU Registrar 2004). Students therefore have to make up the $15,000 to $25,000 differences by either working part-time or taking out loans. Loans are usually associated with additional fees and interests, adding that with the principal of $60,000 to $100,000 during the course of the four years in college, students end up repaying their debt for years after graduation. Some students may be ruined by the heavy debt they borrow from the financial institutions to cover their tuitions at Penn State. Is it really worth it for students to take such a big financial risk so that they can come to Penn State? Will students still flock to attend this expensive university?

There are many reasons that attract college-bound students to come to Penn State. The first reason is that the Penn State diploma can earn you a job more easily compared to other public university’s diploma. This is a true fact, while it is not applicable to all majors. Second, Penn State offers lots of excellent unique programs. The meteorology program at Penn State attracts students that are interested in meteorology to come to Penn State, since there are no meteorology programs in nearby public universities and Penn State’s meteorology program is the top in the nation. Huge programs in business and engineering at Penn State have good reputations in helping graduates to obtain jobs. Penn State ranks in the top 20 and top 5 for its engineering and business programs respectively (PSU Admission 2004). 5,666 students are enrolled in the Smeal College of Business, one of the largest business schools in the nation (Smeal 2004). In the college of Engineering, 7307 students are enrolled in it (Engineering 2004). Despise of the expensive tuition, the excellent programs continue to attract students to attend Penn State.

Penn State President Graham Spanier is fond of reminding faculties that Penn State is an expensive public institution in the nation. Therefore Spanier argues Penn State should also offer the highest quality in education (Schall 2004). Is Penn State really worth what you pay for? You should base your decisions on factors such as academics, tuition costs, research opportunities, student activities, and so forth. The process of choosing your ideal college is a very complicated task, and you should be very careful in figuring out which school fits you the best. I have provided lots of useful evaluation on the tuition statistics of the Pennsylvania State University. To attend Penn State or not is up to your decision. I hope that my information provided will give you useful guidance in determining whether you should attend Penn State from the cost perspective. I hope that you will make a wise choice for your future education, and enjoy the higher education you are going to receive. Finally, I wish you all good luck in your future learning career as learning is a lifetime experience.


“Department Enrollment Information.” College of Engineering, 2004: Undergraduate Information.

“Department Enrollment Information.” Smeal College of Business, 2004: Undergraduate Information.

“Inflation Annual Change-US (1983-2003).” United States Bureau of Labor Resources, 2004: United States Inflation Rate.

Joe Schall. Giles Writer-In-Residence at Penn State. Personal Communication.

“Penn State Tuition.” Penn State-the Registrar Office, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

“Planned, Ongoing, or Completed Construction Projects at University Park.” Penn State-Physical Plant, 2004: Capital Plan.

“Rankings for Penn State.” Penn State-the Registrar Office, 2004: Penn State Rankings.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” Michigan State University, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” New Jersey State University of Rutgers, 2004:
Undergraduate Catalog.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” New York State University, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” Ohio University, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” University of Delaware, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

“Tuition for Year 2004/2005.” University of Maryland, 2004: Undergraduate Catalog.

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