Committee recommends approval of 2015-16 room and board rates

HERSHEY, Pa. -- As is typically done at the March meeting of the Penn State Board of Trustees, a presentation on room and board rates for the upcoming academic year was presented today (March 19), with a modest 3.89 increase recommended for 2015-16 by the Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning.

If approved by the full board, the average room and board rate -- which includes a standard double room and the most common meal plan -- will be $5,075 a semester, a 3.89 percent increase over 2014-15. The full board will vote on the proposal on Friday (March 20).

The proposed increase addresses a projected rise in food and utility expenses, as well as necessary payroll and property expense increases, 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 or tuition funds are used for construction, maintenance of facilities or the operations of the housing and dining program.

Food costs in the coming year are expected to increase by 2.9 percent. Initiatives to contract directly with suppliers and other cost-control efforts helped to keep the increase lower than Consumer Price Index forecasts for next year, Hurley said. The aggregate increase for utilities is projected at 4.2 percent. And the overall property expense, comprised of debt service and deferred maintenance for facility renewal and new construction, is expected to increase by 3.9 percent.

The largest increase is in payroll and payroll-related expenses, which can be attributed to inflationary adjustments for staff and technical service employees, and an increase in the fringe benefit rate -- primarily due to an increase in required contributions to the state retirement system. Those costs are estimated to increase by $2.3 million, or 4.7 percent.

Other expense increases for 2015-16 are expected in maintenance, supplies and Residence Life operations. Overall expenses for Housing, Food Services and Residence Life are projected to increase by about $7.8 million.

Hurley said there is an ongoing need for upgrading on-campus living facilities to remain attractive to potential and returning students, especially with the growth of off-campus apartments. Current construction and renovations are part of a 10-year, long-term facilities plan, which Hurley presented to the Board of Trustees in March 2013 that includes renovations to University Park’s East and Pollock halls that encompass 23 buildings -- 14 in East and nine in Pollock.

“This year’s request marks year three in our long-term plan and will allow us to continue our forward progress in renewing our facilities and adding beds as needed at University Park and the campuses,” Hurley said. “Not long ago, we asked students what they liked best about the renovations. Not surprisingly, they said the private bathrooms, updated sorority suite space, AV (audio-visual)-equipped study, meeting and social space, Wi-Fi and air conditioning.”

One of the biggest changes at the University Park campus this year was the installation of networks for in-room wireless capability, the installation of surveillance cameras at entrances and in public areas, and the changeover and updating of the door card-access system.

At Commonwealth Campuses, wireless installations should be finished by the end of May, and card access upgrades and video surveillance projects will be completed by the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester.

The newly renovated Hibbs and Stephens halls in Pollock were completed in January with a mid-year move-in. “The change to the façade of the buildings was so amazing that we had to convince some alums that we hadn’t demolished the old buildings and built new,” Hurley said.

To offset the loss of space during the renovations of East and Pollock and to eventually increase the bed capacity at the end of the renovations, a total of 600 new beds are planned in the next phase of the renovations in two residence buildings located in North and East halls.

Plans also are underway to renovate University Park’s Findlay Dining Commons in East Halls -- last updated in 1992 -- and 14 existing buildings in East Halls, which account for about 4,000 bed spaces.

Hurley said that 50 years have passed since East Halls was constructed, and more than 200,000 students have lived within those walls in that time.

“It is within the rooms and hallways of these buildings that the personal, social and career paths of scientists, engineers, teachers, architects, musicians and countless others were explored and defined,” she said. “It is now time to reshape those 1960s buildings to re-energize the space, to provide the living accommodations that will continue to attract and retain future generations of students and to positively impact their experiences and memories.”

Housing rate changes specific to various campus living units can be found at online.

Last Updated March 21, 2015