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March 3, 2016

State-relateds plead for support in Harrisburg

In state budget hearings in Harrisburg, leaders from Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities touted their fiscal responsibility and efforts to hold the line on tuition costs, recounting hiring freezes, staff and program cuts and early retirement programs among their responses to reduced state funding.

And while the annual hearings are designed to focus on the coming year’s state budget, the elephant in the room was the lack of current-year appropriations totaling some $600 million for Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities.

“A $175 million shortfall can’t be covered by a hiring freeze or modest tuition increase,” Temple President Neil Theobald told House leaders yesterday, calling attention to the budget hole Temple is facing as part of that budget uncertainty.

“I’m most concerned about the opportunity cost,” courtChancellor Patrick Gallagher said of the budget impasse.

“I think these are the four best growth engines in the state.” The lack of state funding has other costs, Gallagher said.

“Pitt isn’t going away. It’s not a question there. Its character as a state institution is what’s at risk,” he said. “Do we continue to be focused on serving the commonwealth and providing an accessible education, driving the economic growth?”

Prospective students also suffer. “This could have a quite significant effect on the ongoing enrollment process,” with some students who are deciding on what school to attend “afraid about what the tuition will be or won’t be and not being able to project.”

University leaders emphasized the state-related universities’ role as drivers of Pennsylvania’s economy — as generators of knowledge, job creators in their own communities, and attractors of research dollars and out-of-state talent.

In terms of developing the state’s workforce, Gallagher pointed to Pitt’s guarantee of internships and co-op opportunities for all students, as well as its “Pitt for Life” initiative.

“As part of our new strategic plan, I want to hold Pitt accountable for how our students succeed in life — not the characteristics at graduation, but how they do afterwards. What I want to be able to do is maintain that relationship with alumni long term and continue to get feedback about how their Pitt education prepared them and, frankly, what the institution can continue to do to ensure their success,” he said.

“We’re entering a time when a degree has never been more important economically. The economic disparity between those with and without degrees has never been larger in our history.

“This is lifelong learning — we’re in a knowledge-driven economy in this country and we need to continue to support that journey. You’re actually not done when you graduate.”

The state is facing hard realities in terms of a gap between revenue and expenditures.

Senate appropriations chair Patrick Browne told the university leaders their requests for double-digit budget increases in fiscal 2017 would be difficult “without a discussion of new revenue.”

House appropriations minority chair Joseph Markosek acknowledged the desire to bolster funding for the state-related schools in the wake of prior administrations’ cuts. The timetable for restoring funding over two years “is probably going to have to be extended now,” he said.

“Nobody here is against additional funding for the state relateds,” he said. “It’s going to take new revenue, quite frankly, to do that.”

In a written statement submitted to the appropriations committees, Gallagher focused on the need for both increased funding and a multiyear funding strategy.

“Without such stability and consistency, we cannot keep tuition costs under control, and we cannot keep playing such a vital role in our state’s growth. At the same time, the budgetary difficulties that the commonwealth faces become much easier to address when the state’s economy is growing. Pitt is a proven economic driver — both locally and statewide.

“In this regard, we support Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 5 percent funding increase for state-related universities. Such a plan recommits the state to a partnership with Pitt while ensuring that we can carry out our public role and continue serving as a magnet — academically and economically — for the state.

“Harrisburg’s support for Pitt is at its lowest levels in our 50-year history as a public university. Equally troubling: State funding — which accounts for 15 percent of our academic budget — fell dramatically just a few years ago, and it has flat-lined ever since,” he stated, adding that the most recent state funding, passed in the fiscal year 2015 budget, is on par with state support received two decades ago.

“Despite being chronically underfunded by the state — and now without funding — we have managed our resources, operations and costs as strategically and conscientiously as possible,” he wrote.

“We are a great value for our students, but we are also a great investment for the state. Over the years, Pitt has become a critical economic driver for the commonwealth. As a university, our annual economic contribution to the state is more than $3.7 billion. With an appropriation of $147 million, this translates to a $25 economic return for every dollar that the commonwealth invests in Pitt.

“Throughout this budget process, there has been a broad consensus of support for funding public higher education. We want to continue to partner with the state to end the current budget impasse and create a multiyear funding framework that advances higher education. And we want to strengthen Pennsylvania’s future together.

“With Pitt, the commonwealth, its residents and our students all gain. With Pitt, Pennsylvania wins.”

Budget hearing testimony from the House may be viewed at Senate budget testimony is posted at

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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