Going for the gold
Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh are natural rivals and, in many ways, that is a very good thing for the commonwealth. Both are highly regarded public universities that help to drive the state economy while providing good educations for Pennsylvania students.
But the institutions seem locked in a neck-and-neck race for the top spot in the wrong category - highest public-university tuition in the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Pitt passed Penn State for the top spot in the 2013-2014 academic year, at $16,590. PSU held the second spot at $16,444.
Penn State and Temple are state-affiliated universities. Temple University, another in that category, was 19th on the DOE list at $13,459. The national average for public universities for the period was $7,407.
Part of the reason is that Pennsylvania provides less public support than some other states for state-affiliated universities. The state Higher Education Executive Officers Association, for example, ranks Pennsylvania 47th of 50 states in per-student spending.
A Penn State spokeswoman said its level of state aid is equivalent to 1996, when PSU had 20,000 fewer students.
This is a race to the top that the state Legislature should slow by increasing aid.
The data also are a cautionary tale for West Chester University and a few other state-owned universities that are thinking about joining Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities as state-affiliated. Next year, West Chester's tuition will be less than half of Pitt's or Penn State's.