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Despite continuing budget shortfall, Harrisburg University freezes tuition again

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Harrisburg University's financial struggles continue.
Harrisburg University's financial struggles continue. - (Photo / )

A recent bond filing says Harrisburg University of Science and Technology's expenses for the year ended June 30 exceeded revenues by nearly $3.5 million, but that didn't keep HU from freezing its undergraduate tuition for the second year in a row.

The tuition freeze announcement this week puts the full-time undergraduate price tag at $23,900 — $6,700 below the average for private universities in Pennsylvania, a news release said.

The release also noted that HU awards scholarships on the following basis: $20,000 for a 3.8 high school GPA, $10,000 for a 3.3, $8,000 for a 3.0, and $6,000 for a 2.7. Additionally, transfer students from Harrisburg Area Community College or other regionally accredited community colleges and universities can earn scholarships ranging from $8,000 to full tuition, and graduates of the school districts in Dauphin County, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. may qualify for full-tuition scholarships.

“While Harrisburg University is expanding its enrollment and locations, we are committed to holding the line and keeping education affordable,” HU President Eric Darr said in the release. “We want to show students and their families that earning your degree at Harrisburg University is affordable.”

Darr also said affordable science and technology education is “essential to economic development in the region” and noted that “with a student body that is nearly half minority and women, HU is making a college degree possible for two groups of students that have been the most under-represented in the science and technology fields.”

The release did not say how many students HU expects to welcome when classes for its fall semester start on Sept. 4. However, an audit on its previous fiscal year reported that after welcoming 136 first-time, full-time freshmen in 2012 and 118 in 2013, and then in February 2013 engaging consultant Noel-Levitz for two years to help boost recruitment, HU was striving “to add 135 plus first‐time, full‐time freshmen to the university in fall 2014.”

Notably, that audit said that the university’s ongoing financial struggles “raise substantial doubt about the university’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

It has been a year since that pronouncement, Darr pointed out, and HU is still here.

Darr, who has previously said debt on the university's $73 million, 16-story building in downtown Harrisburg is the main source of its financial troubles, in March said HU was out of default after Harrisburg Parking Authority paid $3.6 million for a clear deed to its parking facilities in HU’s building. But the recent bond filing shows that HU’s financial struggles continue.

Expenses for HU’s year ended June 30 totaled $17.8 million — including $1.15 million for student housing — against total revenues, gains and other support of only $14.34 million, the filing said. Of those revenues, tuition and fees netted just $6.28 million, with private gifts, grants and contribution adding $1.62 million and student housing pulling in $907,315.

About $2.3 million of what is counted as HU’s losses this year is depreciation, Darr said, which leaves the cash losses at about $1.3 million. Compared to last year’s cash losses of about $6.3 million, he said, that’s encouraging – and he’s hoping for a cash gain next year.

While he’s not claiming victory yet, Darr said, “The circumstances are different than they were a year ago, and that’s good for everybody.”

Additionally, the university's accreditor put HU on probation in June for reasons including concerns that it does not have "the financial resources, funding base, and plans for financial development adequate to support its educational purposes and programs and to assure financial stability." HU does remain accredited throughout the probationary process, however.

An HU spokesman said at the time that the university was shocked and disappointed by the action, as a team from the commission visited in March and reported that HU met all accreditation standards then.

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