HERSHEY, Pa. — Penn State's Board of Trustees Friday (March 15) approved room and board rates for the 2013-14 academic year. The average room and board rate, which includes a standard double room and the most common meal plan, will be $4,685 a semester, a 4.23 percent increase over 2012-13.
The increase addresses a projected rise in food and utilities expenses, as well as necessary maintenance, facility renewal and strategic needs, said Gail Hurley, associate vice president for Auxiliary and Business Services.
Housing and Food Services is a self-supporting enterprise. Money paid by students and guests for food and lodging are the only funds used for all operating expenses, building loans and interest payments, as well as costs for major maintenance and facility renewal. No state funds are used for construction, maintenance of facilities or the operations of the housing and dining program.
Food costs are expected to increase by 1.9 percent. Initiatives to contract directly with suppliers and other cost-control efforts helped to keep the increase low, about half of Consumer Price Index forecasts for next year, Hurley said. The aggregate increase for utilities is projected at 5.8 percent, with the largest increases expected in water and gas.
Deferred maintenance and facility renewal will increase by about $3 million. Across Penn State's nine residential campuses, more than half of the residence halls are at least 43 years old. At University Park, the average living space is 52-years-old.
Hurley said that while many students desire the convenience of living on campus, the number of off-campus apartment complexes offering numerous amenities has grown. At the same time, many campus residence halls have not seen any major upgrades since they were first built, except for infrastructure and safety requirements.
"Students and their families have expectations of college living that are much different now from what they were when our facilities were first built," Hurley said. "For on-campus living to remain attractive to potential and returning students, especially with the proliferation of off-campus apartments, money must be earmarked for the systematic renewal of our facilities over and above deferred maintenance needs."
Penn State has had a plan in place for years to improve residence and dining facilities. Though progress has been slow, "the results have been extraordinary," Hurley said.
A dining area remodeling completed at Penn State Altoona last fall has met with highly positive response. Hurley also cited the renovation of South Halls at University Park, which includes construction of a new residence hall to open this fall and involved students in the process to identify their most critical needs and give input into design.
A rolling 10-year plan envisions renovations to all of East and Pollock halls at University Park, where residence halls range from 47 to 53 years old and have not had any significant upgrades during that time.
Additionally, Housing and Food Services is looking to provide on-campus housing and dining at Penn State Abington and Penn State Brandywine in the future, though a final decision to do so has not been made. Two independent studies have confirmed a market exists for such facilities at both Philadelphia-area locations. Enrollments and demographics at both campuses are similar to other locations with successful on-campus operations.
"The service areas of Abington and Brandywine have historically delivered a sizeable share of the University’s first-year Pennsylvania applicants," Hurley said, adding that the school districts in the Abington and Brandywine areas are projected to experience growth through 2021.
Many colleges and universities in the vicinity of these campuses offer campus living options. University-managed housing and dining services would help both campuses better compete in the local market, as well as be more attractive to international and out-of-service-area students.
Hurley said that a systematic renewal of existing facilities and strategic investment in new on-campus programs would require a sustained commitment above basic operating costs for the next six years.
Other expense increases for 2013-14 are expected in maintenance, supplies, salaries and wages and Residence Life operations. Overall expenses for Housing,
Food Services and Residence Life, are projected to increase by about $7 million in 2013-14.
Penn State room and board rates are regularly in the lowest tier among Big Ten and other select schools. University residence halls and apartments accommodate 18,825 students at University Park, Altoona, Beaver, Berks, Erie, Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Hazleton and Mont Alto.
Housing rate changes specific to various campus living units can be found at http://www.hfs.psu.edu/rates.