By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — The leaders of Pennsylvania’s largest universities say students will not have to bear the full brunt of state-level budget cuts.
University programs and staff will face reductions as well, they said Tuesday.
In what is becoming the most controversial part of Gov. Tom Corbett
’s first budget proposal, state funding for higher education is proposed to be slashed by 50 percent next year. The cuts will impact the 14 schools that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the four state universities — Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities.
The total amount cut from the appropriations to the 18 schools tops $600 million. Graham Spanier, president of Penn State, said the 50-percent cut was the single largest percentage cut ever proposed for higher education in any state.
Mark Nordenberg, chancellor of Pittsburgh University, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the cuts were “a fundamental retreat” from the agreement made by the state in the 1960s when Pittsburgh and Temple joined Penn State as state-related universities.
“The commitment from the commonwealth at that time was that it would provide levels of funding to these institutions that would open up large numbers of reasonably priced higher education opportunities,” said Nordenberg.
State Sen. Jake Corman
, R-Centre, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it was too early to assess whether the proposed cuts would be realized in the final budget.
“I think we have a commitment to higher education,” said Corman. “It would be a mistake to go back on that.”
The good news for Pennsylvania college students and families is that state funding cuts will not be balanced entirely by tuition hikes at Temple, Penn State and Pittsburgh.
At Penn State, tuition increases will be necessary, but cuts to programs and staff layoffs also will be part of the equation.
“Of course tuition will have to increase, but we can’t put that big of a burden on our students,” said Spanier. “About 75 percent of our expenditures are staff.”
According to the university, Penn State has 96,000 students and 47,000 faculty and staff — a ratio of almost 2-to-1. The proposed $168 million cut in state funding equals 4 percent of the university’s 2010-2011 budget.
Ann Hart, president of Temple University, said the school would look to combine programs to increase effectiveness and efficiency while also looking to tuition increases.
“We would obviously not put the full burden of this cut — were it to come at this level — on our students,” said Hart. “None of us have ever contemplated simply passing it on to our students.”
For Temple undergrads, it would work out to a 44-percent tuition increase if other options were not considered, said Hart. Instead, the university will look to “spread the pain across the institution.”
The proposed budget eliminates $84 million in state funds from Temple, which equals about 7 percent of the school’s 2010-11 operating budget.
At Pittsburgh, the proposed cuts would amount to $80 million, about 5 percent of the school’s total budget.
During his budget address, Corbett said the cuts to higher education were necessary because state subsidies intended to keep tuition costs down had failed. He also suggested state funding for higher education should be redirected toward students rather than institutions.
“When it comes to higher education, we should do the same thing that we do in basic education. The dollars should follow the student,” said Corbett.
On Wednesday, Spanier said the message of higher state spending on higher education has not been reflected in appropriations, as higher education has been flat funded during the past decade.
Since 2000, state spending on higher education in Pennsylvania has seen an 18-percent increase while the state’s general fund has grown by 47 percent. The total operating budget of the state has increased 67 percent.
Charles Zogby, Corbett’s budget secretary, defended the governor’s decision to redirect state funding toward students rather than institutions.
“It’s not about the institutions, but about the state dollars and the performance and results we are getting from those state dollars,” said Zogby, who said some state schools have seen tuition increases of more than 100 percent in the past decade.
“I don’t know that there is any level of state revenue that could keep up with those increases,” said Zogby.
In the proposed budget, there is an $8-million cut in student grants for higher education through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
The representatives from Temple, Pittsburgh and Penn State roundly disagreed with the administration’s new direction for higher education funding.
“I think the notion that you walk away from that represents a policy choice that is not in the best interest of Pennsylvania,” said Nordenberg.
Hart said the changes would force the schools to a business model more like private or independent colleges.