Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 23, 2012

Pitt pleads case to House panel

Leaders from Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities met with a largely sympathetic House of Representatives appropriations committee in Harrisburg yesterday.

In written statements and budget testimony before the committee, the university leaders cited their contributions to the state’s economy, their communities and in preparing their students for the workforce, particularly in the science, technology, education and medical fields.

Under the budget plan announced by Gov. Tom Corbett Feb. 7, Pitt, Penn State and Temple would face a 30 percent cut in their general appropriations while state funding for Lincoln University would remain flat.

Pitt administrators have calculated that the University stands to lose $41.67 million in support under the governor’s proposal, in addition to the potential loss of about $9 million in research funding paid for through the state’s share of federal tobacco settlement dollars.

The governor’s proposal follows a cut of about 20 percent in last year’s budget and a midyear rescission of an additional 5 percent imposed in January due to lagging state revenues. Pitt’s capital budget support also took a hit: It was slashed from $40 million to $20 million last fall.

Continuing decreases in state support are pushing Pitt’s state-related universities toward becoming private institutions, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg told the appropriations committee. He said the budget cuts represent the dismantling of Pennsylvania’s longstanding commitment to higher education, “particularly to its research universities.”

Appropriations committee chair William Adolph (R-165) encouraged the university leaders to make their cases for state funding, noting that the administration appears to be taking a different direction with regard to funding higher education.

Referring to the fiscal year-end deadline for a new budget, he said, “Between now and June 30, the General Assembly will see if we agree” with the cuts or instead will partially restore education funds as it has in past years.

Adolph reiterated the role the House appropriations committee and the state legislature played last year, softening the blow from the governor’s proposed 50 percent cut to 19 percent for the state-relateds.

Nordenberg said, “We have not forgotten what you did for us last year. We are deeply grateful.”

However, he noted that the combined effect of last year’s cut and the current proposal to slash an additional 30 percent of the schools’ general appropriation and 10 percent of the academic medical center funding adds up to the same result.

“The cuts, when combined, are as dramatic as what were proposed for last year,” he observed. “All we’ve done is spread it out over an additional year.”

Given the accumulated cuts, “Basically we are being pushed [toward] being private institutions,” he told the legislators.

Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-135) said he disagrees with the governor’s direction. “I hope we reverse this cut and restore the funding,” he said. “Last year, Gov. Corbett wanted a 50 percent cut and in the end it was 19 percent,” he said. “I still have to say 19 percent was a significant cut to higher education. And it had consequences,” he said, noting that tuition increases were among the results.

“I fear what would happen if Gov. Corbett gets his way and state funding is cut another 30 percent,” Samuelson said, noting there is suspicion that Corbett’s plan is to withdraw the state’s commitment to higher education gradually.

Elimination of state support would mean an additional $10,000 a year in tuition costs for in-state students, Nordenberg said. At Penn State the in-state tuition differential is $6,000 at the regionals and double that on the main campus, President Rodney Erickson said. At Lincoln, in-state students pay $4,966 less than out-of-state students and at Temple, in-state tuition is 80 percent of the out-of-state charge, the presidents said.

Public or private?

Private schools differ in many ways from state-related universities, Nordenberg told the committee.

Tuition at private institutions similar to Pitt tends to be about three times the price of Pitt’s in-state tuition, he said. And, while most of the students that Pitt currently serves come from within Pennsylvania, the reverse typically is true at private universities. Currently, in-state students make up about three-quarters of Pitt’s student body. At private schools, the mix typically is closer to 25 percent in-state and 75 percent out-of-state, he said.

Nordenberg noted that if Pitt had absorbed last year’s budget cut through tuition increases alone, the result would have been an 18 percent hike, or $3,000 for in-state students.

However, he pointed out that private schools charge tuition of $40,000-$45,000 per year. Should it be the state’s intent that Pitt be private, “We could be going up $25,000 per student,” he said.

Such change could be measured not only in dollars and cents, but also in the composition of the student body and the tone of the University community, he cautioned.

The chancellor pointed out that private universities tend not to have branch campuses, noting that he and Erickson had discussed the issue of support for regional campuses. “There are going to be particular challenges attracting and supporting students who really need those educational programs on those campuses not located at the center of the university,” he said.

“I pledge to you, we’re not looking to do anything to those regional campuses. We love all four of them,” Nordenberg said. “We’re being pushed in a way that thinking about that becomes inevitable.”

For Penn State’s part, Erickson said all its regional campuses “are viable at this point.” However, if funding continues to decline, fewer students would be able to afford to attend those schools, he noted.

Nordenberg said community ties could be weakened as well should state funding be eliminated. “I think that most colleges and universities try to do things for their communities. But I think there is a marked difference between a public and private university,” he said.

He cited as one example last year’s 50 percent cut in funding for Pitt’s special needs dental clinic, which serves a wide geographic area. “What are we supposed to do if we don’t have the funding for delivering those services to the citizens who need them?” he asked.

Right to know

Mario Scavello (R-176) asked the university leaders whether they support proposed changes to the state’s right-to-know laws, which currently exempt the state-related universities from some of the same disclosures required for government entities and the state-owned universities. (See Dec. 8, 2011, University Times.)

Producing a sheaf of papers about five inches thick, Nordenberg illustrated the reporting Pitt currently provides. “Those are our disclosures for the past year,” he said, adding, “People don’t realize what we are required to produce under the right-to-know law and other provisions.”

Temple President Ann Weaver Hart said eliminating the schools’ exemption would cost the state-related schools millions of dollars in setting up and staffing offices to field right-to-know requests. Nordenberg added that if the state-related schools are heading toward being made private, perhaps they shouldn’t be forced to incur those expenses.

Economic effects

Appropriations committee minority chair Joseph F. Markosek (D-25) asked the university leaders about the effect continued budget cuts would have on their workforce.

Erickson said at the very least, faculty and staff vacancies would go unfilled and more program cuts could occur, noting that Penn State would continue to cut costs to try to shield students from bearing the brunt of the impact of decreased state support.

“At some point we simply can’t do business as usual, year-in and year-out. We have to know where this is going,” he said.

Nordenberg put the effect of past cuts into perspective, telling legislators, “Just looking at last year’s cuts, if we had dealt with those cuts by eliminating jobs, it would have been 1,000 jobs.”

He added: “We didn’t do it that way in part because we continue to be in an area of business where the demand for our services is very strong,” noting that by maintaining employment, the University could help the region progress in its recovery from the recession.

However, should state support continue to decline, “we can’t keep escaping some of those actions,” Nordenberg said.

Rep. Matthew Smith (D-42) pointed out the different approach being demonstrated across the state line in New Jersey. There, a new state budget would increase support for students and state universities, a move that Temple’s Hart said would make it more difficult for the Philadelphia region to compete.

She said there already is huge economic movement between New Jersey and the greater Philadelphia area, not just in research and education, but also in pharmaceuticals and health care. “It’s a direct attempt to keep revenue in New Jersey and compete with the greater Philadelphia region,” she said.


In wrapping up the three-hour hearing, committee chair Adolph reiterated that the budget presented in the governor’s annual address “is a proposal. It’s a starting point, a blueprint,” adding that the committee members will do their best to make sure that the people of Pennsylvania are represented in the budget process.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply