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Maybe they’re finally starting to get the hint.

For years, it’s simply been an annual rite of summer — like fireworks on the Fourth of July — that our state’s biggest universities would raise tuition rates.

It’s just the way it was. No one at Penn State or Pitt ever seemed to give it a second thought.

And it’s not just those schools that have raised tuition. For the past half century, college tuition, across the board and across the nation, hasn’t just increased, but it’s far outstripped the general rate of inflation.

A tuition freeze, or heaven forbid, a tuition decrease, never seemed to enter the conversations in the hallowed halls of our largest colleges.

It just wasn’t done — until now.

For the time in 43 years, Pitt is freezing base tuition for in-state residents.

For only the second time in more than 50 years, Penn State is adopting a similar tuition freeze.

So, what’s different now?

Well a few things.

State budget boost: First, our state politicians finally stepped up to the plate a bit this year, adopting a state budget that increased subsidies to the schools by 3 percent, while simultaneously urging the schools to hold the line on tuition.

It was a long overdue state boost, after years of cutbacks, especially under the Corbett administration.

The debt problem: A bigger factor in the tuition freeze, however, is likely the fact that families across Pennsylvania are asking a simple question: Is the long-term investment in a college education worth the exorbitant price?

Student-loan debts are simply crushing many working families.

For decades, a college diploma was seen as a gateway to a better life.

Now, many students — or their parents — can face a debt approaching $100,000, sometimes more. It can take years to dig out of that hole.

Colleges facing hard questions: As a result, many, if not most, universities are battling declining enrollments.

The old, reliable answer of simply raising tuition to make up for rising costs doesn’t seem to work anymore.

For the first time in a long time, our universities are being forced to face some hard questions about what is and isn’t needed to provide a quality education at a reasonable price.

A good start: Holding the line on tuition, even if it’s just for one year, is a good start.

Yes, maybe the folks in charge of Pennsylvania’s biggest schools are finally getting the hint being delivered by families across the state.

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