An industry view at Penn State’s growing revenue and tuition increase


By HappyValley Industry Staff

If Penn State was a business entity rather than a non-profit one, its projected revenue for this fiscal year puts it somewhere between Campbell’s (as in the soup, $8.6 billion) and Puma ($9.1 billion). A tuition increase and 20 years of shrinking state appropriations have put the university’s financials in the headlines, from the Centre Daily Times to the Wall Street Journal (twice!).

A closer look at the 2023-24 budget approved in July* compared to the last pre-pandemic year 2018-19 shows a near-$2.5 billion increase in revenue. Income from the Penn State Health System makes up the biggest portion of the increase at $1.39 billion. Tuition and student fees represent around $369 million.

What do these numbers mean to consumers, like students and their parents as they compare college costs? How does Penn State’s $19,000-in-state tuition (or $38,000 out-of-state) compare to Syracuse or Lehigh, Bucknell or Lafayette, all of which are AT LEAST twice as expensive? According to the Centre Daily Times, with tuition increases, at University Park, a typical in-state undergrad will see their yearly tuition rise by $386 to $19,672 for the 2023-2024 academic year. And, in 2024-2025, tuition will rise an additional $394 to $20,066. (Out-of-state students at University Park will see their tuition increase more than $1,500 each of the next two academic years.)

Overall positive numbers are in light of the Wall Street Journal’s report that Penn State’s University Park campus was the country’s most expensive state flagship in the 2021-22 school year for in-state freshmen (after scholarships).

Moreover, what does it all mean to the state and region to analyze the $9 billion enterprise’s impact on economic growth?

Students voting with their dollars from around the globe to attend Penn State makes up about 24% of the university’s total revenue. Enrollment in 2023 indicates that a Penn State education is in demand, especially at the main campus at University Park and among international students.

  • University-wide enrollment remained steady.
  • On-campus enrollment at University Park increased by 2.7% to 48,197 students — nearly 1,500 higher compared to pre-COVID fall 2019 semester enrollment (Commonwealth campus enrollment declined by 2.6%).
  • Enrollment of new international students increased by nearly 30%  – up from 1,237 to 1,605 this year – firmly exceeding pre-pandemic numbers and adding to the University's overall international student population of nearly 10,000.
  • The number of incoming first-time and transfer undergraduate students from underrepresented groups grew by 5.2% from 3,280 to 3,451, continuing a multi-year increase in this area.

Overall positive numbers are in light of the Wall Street Journal’s report that Penn State’s University Park campus was the country’s most expensive state flagship in the 2021-22 school year for in-state freshmen (after scholarships).

Amid market forces, students are seeking what Penn State offers, like this recent news: Penn State ranked No. 21 among all large U.S. employers — public, private and nonprofit — for new college graduates entering the workforce, according to Forbes’ recently released 2023 “America’s Best Employers for New Grads” survey.

Penn State also offers:

In the grand scheme, tuition increases, and Penn State’s budget are complex issues to analyze and tackle. Fortunately, President Neeli Benapudi has pledged to transform internal operations and restructure the university’s finances as one of her five focus areas. As an example, the most recent budget presentation explained that the projected $140 million deficit for this past fiscal year had already been reduced to $63 million—an improvement of $77 million—with a goal to balance the budget by summer 2025.

If it was a public company like Campbell’s, would you feel good buying Penn State stock for the next decade? How would you feel about its choice to fixate on growth and what that means to Happy Valley, the surrounding region and the state? As Penn State operates more like a private enterprise, state appropriations look more like ‘the ship that’s sailed,’ and a very small ship at that, while the university continues building its brand and the attributes that come with it.

For all of you Penn State finance buffs, add to the story! We want to dig deeper into the $9B engine that powers Penn State in future stories in this series.

*In a change from past practice, the Student Initiated Fee and self-supporting units such as Auxiliary and Business Services, the Applied Research Laboratory, Development and Alumni Relations, Intercollegiate Athletics, and the Land Scrip fund (which supports Penn State Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension) have been moved from the E&G budget and are now accounted for independently. This change is intended to provide greater clarity, better reflect annual E&G expenditures, and properly account for some funding types that are designated for specific purposes and may not be used in a single fiscal year.


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  1. I would welcome the opportunity to get to know the authors of this article. I am a current PhD student in the beginning stages of my research studying higher education related finances. I hope to meet the authors to learn more about their backgrounds and how I might partner with them throughout my research to take place over the next several years. Let me know if anyone might be open to meeting about this. Thank you!

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