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Credit: Tamara Wurman

Penn's Board of Trustees approved a 2.8% tuition increase for the 2021-2022 academic year — the lowest year-to-year percentage increase in more than five decades.

At Thursday's Board of Trustees Budget & Finance Committee meeting, University administrators announced next year's cost of attendance will total $79,014 including tuition, fees, and room and board, up from the $76,826 charged for the 2020-2021 academic year. The University's financial aid reserve funds will allow it to offer a more modest tuition increase. The increase is notably lower than the typical 3.9% annual tuition hike, a move Penn President Amy Gutmann said is intended to benefit families amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The reason we feel we can and should do this is that we realize how much — financially and otherwise — families are going through, and we came into this in a strong enough financial position that we think this is the time we should use our [financial aid] reserves, since that's what they're there for," Gutmann said at the meeting.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, Penn will charge $54,652 for tuition, up 2.8% from the previous year's $53,166. Fees will rise from $6,876 to $7,058, room will rise from $11,014 to $11,358, and board will rise from $5,770 to $5,946.

“This is the lowest percentage increase for tuition since the 1960s,” Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli told Penn Today. “While the unprecedented nature of the pandemic has had a great financial impact on the University, the same is true for many of our students and their families, and we took great effort to ensure that cost increases were as low as possible, while simultaneously strengthening our extraordinary grant-based financial aid program.”

The trustees also approved a $259 million undergraduate financial aid budget for the next academic year, $3 million more than the 2020-2021 year's $256 million financial aid budget. Currently, 46% of undergraduates receive financial aid in the form of grants, with an average of $55,861 in funding, according to Penn Today

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn froze tuition for the fall 2020 semester at the previous year's rate and cut the general fee cost by 10% — a move many students felt didn't go far enough in light of the economic struggles brought by the pandemic. The University also replaced the summer savings expectation — a student's expected contribution toward tuition payments — with a COVID-19 summer savings grant. 

At the meeting, Gutmann denied allegations that the University's decision to launch a second-year experience program — which will require sophomores to live in on-campus housing and purchase a meal plan starting this fall — was motivated by profit.

Vice President of Finance and Treasurer MaryFrances McCourt and Vice President of Budget and Management Analysis Trevor Lewis made presentations about Penn's financial performance from the last six months of 2020 and budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2022. Following the presentations, Trustee Laura Alber said "it doesn't appear that there's any truth in the students’ or different people's comments that the new boarding plan is going to create a lot more income for the school."

The sophomore dining requirement, announced earlier this month, caught students by surprise, one of whom told The Daily Pennsylvanian they felt the plan is a "blatant cash grab." A petition demanding Penn cancel the dining requirement has garnered more than 650 signatures. In 2018, Penn announced that all undergraduate sophomore students will be required to live on campus in college houses beginning in fall 2021 — a decision that was similarly met with frustration among students, as some off-campus living options are cheaper than living in college houses. 

"It is an attempt to create community," Gutmann said. "From everything we have heard, not just anecdotally but in numbers, this will destress our students and their parents, and actually, this is an expense driver for us, it's not a revenue source."