The governing board of Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities is holding tuition increases to 3 percent this school year, roughly the same as the rate of inflation.
While we're pleased with the decision, the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education should not be looking for a pat on the back.
There's no reason college tuition costs should far outpace the rate of inflation -- and that's what's been happening for years across the country.
For the past decade tuition and fees at four-year public colleges in the U.S. have increased an average of 5.6 percent annually beyond the rate of inflation, according to the College Board.
Students are graduating with an average of $19,000 in debt just to get their degrees -- which these days don't guarantee the type of jobs necessary to pay it off.
The Board of Governors point out their tuition increases have been at or below the inflation rate now for five of the past eight years, but what about last year, when the increase was 7.5 percent?
Yes, that was the year Gov. Tom Corbett cut funding to the universities by 18 percent. But the administration correctly pointed out the system regularly hiked tuition in the past regardless of how many more millions the state contributed.
Money was tight all over, and if the universities were going to increase tuition no matter how much the state kicked in -- why not cut? (The state's reasoning, not ours.)
If the 2011-12 budget was a shot across the bow of the universities, it seems to have worked.
Corbett's initial 2012-13 budget plan called for another 20 percent cut in higher education funding, and now the universities knew he was good for his word. He only agreed to flat funding after the Board of Governors promised to hold any tuition hike to no more than the rate of inflation.
See, it can be done.
Colleges and universities -- not just those in Pennsylvania -- can't keep asking for more and more from their states while also asking for more and more and more from students.
Something is out of whack here, and it's putting the dream of a diploma and a better life beyond the reach of many middle-class students. That is, unless they want to -- and are able to -- saddle themselves in heavy debt before they even start working.
Just like school districts, institutions of higher learning need to start right-sizing their operations.
Temple, one of three state-supported universities, was actually able to hold the line on tuition this year for the first time since 1995. Officials there also announced plans to make an additional $8 million available for financial aid, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
To their credit, Pennsylvania's state-owned universities seem to be getting the message.
In a statement announcing this year's tuition hike, the Board of Governors said the universities have taken "significant steps in recent years to control their costs," such as joint purchasing and installing more energy-efficient systems on most campuses.
It also said a retirement incentive program offered two years ago is saving the system more than $10 million annually and changes in health care payments and work rules added to contracts over the past year will produce additional long-term savings.
They've hired fewer adjunct faculty, eliminated or kept vacant more than 900 positions, postponed investments in new equipment and technology, delayed or canceled some maintenance and renovation projects.
It's a good start, but it's going to take more than that to bring college costs back down to earth.