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February 7, 2013

Governor: Flat funding for Pitt

Gov. Tom Corbett had little new to say about higher education in announcing his proposed $28.4 billion fiscal year 2014 state general fund budget.

“Our message to our college students today is that both my administration and the leaders of your state- and state-related schools are committed to making the dream of higher education attainable,” he said in his Feb. 5 budget address.

In a press conference earlier this week, flanked by legislative leaders and representatives from the state-system and state-related universities, including Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Corbett revealed his intention to hold state funding for higher education flat at $1.58 billion in his proposed FY14 state budget in exchange for their pledge to work to keep tuition increases “as low as possible” in the coming academic year.

Nordenberg also was among the higher education leaders in attendance at Corbett’s budget address, during which the governor asked for a round of applause “for their commitment to hold costs down while lifting up the cause of available higher education.”

In his budget address, Corbett confirmed his $1.58 billion plan: “We intend to maintain full funding levels for state- and state-related universities. … At the same time the leaders of these universities have promised to work to keep tuition increases as low as possible for our students. Our commitment allows schools to plan their budgets for the coming year to make the best use of their resources. Their commitment should allow students and their families to plan their own budgets.”

Corbett’s budget proposal also includes a 1.7 percent increase in academic medical center funding.

In the current state budget, Pitt’s appropriation includes $134 million for general support and more than $2.08 million for rural education outreach, plus $4.05 million in academic medical center funding, for a total of $144.34 million.

In its request for the upcoming fiscal year Pitt had asked for a 5 percent increase in state support: $142.88 million in general support and $8.68 million in academic medical center funding for a total of $151.56 million. (See Sept. 27 University Times.)

In his Feb. 1 press conference, Corbett called attention to recommendations made by the Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education that he established last year. The group, which included business and education leaders from across the state, issued its report Nov. 14. (See Nov. 21 University Times.) In it, the commission called for a long-term financial accountability model in exchange for more-predictable state funding levels. “It links any future funding increases to performance and outcome-based measures that will hold down tuition costs while increasing the value of a postsecondary education,” the governor said.

Avoiding cuts to state funding was more difficult in negotiations for the current fiscal year’s state budget. In his proposed budget for this year, Corbett outlined a 30 percent cut to support for Pitt, Penn State and Temple’s education and general funding and a 10 percent cut to medical school funding. (See Feb. 9, 2012, University Times.)

However, in exchange for flat funding for Pitt in the current year’s state budget, University leaders agreed to keep tuition increases below last year’s 3.2 percent inflation rate.

Pitt’s Board of Trustees approved a 2.8 percent blended tuition increase that included a 3 percent increase for students on the Pittsburgh campus and 2 percent for students on the regional campuses. (See July 26, 2012, University Times.)

Noting that last year’s agreement resulted in the lowest tuition hikes in more than a decade, in the press conference Corbett thanked university leaders for their commitment to holding down tuition increases and for their renewed pledge for the coming academic year.

“All of us here share the view that responsible pricing of tuition is essential. It is crucial not only to the students and to their families but to the citizens of our state and to the taxpayers whose tax dollars fund and support higher education. We are all working together to make higher education in Pennsylvania both excellent and affordable,” he said.

During the press conference, Nordenberg, who was a member of the governor’s advisory commission, told the governor that commission members were grateful to him for “embracing the commission and launching this budget year in ways that are consistent with its recommendations.”

Nordenberg said, “The report clearly does call for a commitment to cost containment. The report also recognizes that we need enhanced levels of planning, coordination and accountability if we’re going to maximize the impact of this very special commonwealth asset.

“The report also recognizes that we do need more stable and higher levels of funding and in particular urge that funding not drop beneath last year’s level for fear that real harm could come. The governor, then, has taken the first step. He is moving forward consistent with the report of the commission.”

Nordenberg added, “That report really does provide us with a constructive path moving forward,” thanking the governor for “putting us on that path and for pledging that we can move forward together for the good of Pennsylvania and the people of Pennsylvania.”

Video of the Feb. 1 press conference can be found in the “News from Pitt” section of the Pitt home page at

Pitt’s administration would not comment on any possible tuition increases. In response to University Times’ questions, Robert Hill, vice chancellor for Public Affairs, labeled it “premature at this stage in the appropriation process to discuss tuition,” which is set by Pitt trustees after Pitt’s state appropriation is finalized.

June 30 is the deadline in Harrisburg for legislators to reach an agreement on the state budget. Separate appropriations bills are passed for Pitt and its fellow state-related universities, typically after the state budget is approved.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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