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March 2, 2017

State-relateds plead case to legislators

gallegher_appropriations hearingTuition increases are on the horizon at Pitt and Penn State if state funding for the institutions isn’t increased, state-related university leaders said in a March 1 budget hearing before the Senate appropriations committee in Harrisburg. Gov. Tom Wolf’s $32.34 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 holds funding flat for the four state-related universities: Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln.

Pitt’s state appropriation stands at $146.77 million, made up of $144.21 million in general support and $2.56 million for rural education outreach. In its funding request last fall, the University had asked for a 5 percent increase in state support. (See Oct. 13, 2016, University Times.)

Pitt is trying to keep tuition hikes below inflation, currently 2-3 percent, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told the Senate panel.

Pitt’s most recent tuition increase was 2.3 percent for in-state students on the Pittsburgh campus and 2.75 percent increase for their out-of-state counterparts. Tuition on Pitt’s regional campuses increased 1.9 percent. (See July 21, 2016, University Times.)

Despite efforts to contain costs, pension and health care expenses are rising, said Penn State president Eric Barron, citing tuition increases of 0 and 0.9 percent for in-state students in the past two years. “If there’s not additional funding, we will have to increase tuition,” he said.

Lincoln University interim president Richard Green said increases are expected to be on par with inflation. “Our board has held us firm at staying at 2 percent or so,” he said.

Temple University President Richard M. Englert said it was too early in the budget process to say. “The one thing that our board of trustees continually asks me is: How do we keep tuition as affordable as possible?” he said. In two and a half hours of testimony, the university leaders highlighted their quality education, value and economic impact, as well as their institutions’ role as drivers of the state’s economy.

Several lawmakers’ questioning focused on the need for a longer-term vision and better alignment across the state’s higher education systems, suggesting the appointment of an official overseer.

“How do we, into the future, have more of a continuum of education across Pennsylvania?” asked Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Berks, Bucks and Montgomery).

“We need more discussion about a continuum of education” among Pennsylvania’s community colleges, state-related and state system institutions, he said. “Certainly each of you serve a discrete community and you do very well, but you’re also overlapping and there is competition. We’re now funding competition with our own dollars for our own dollars.”

Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) said: “If we are in a time of less and less funds … is it time now that we at least, through legislation or through some kind of an agreement between the various systems, require the presidents to really meet and talk with each other?

“From our perspective, as one of the funders, we really see duplication, we see institutions next to each other,” he said.

“We need some coordination, even before you come into a budget hearing; it would seem to me if all the systems came together, we could get some sense of what’s taking place.”

While not embracing the concept of a state higher education czar, the university leaders were amenable to more system-wide collaboration.
Penn State’s Barron cautioned against adding another layer of bureaucracy that could increase costs and make the institutions less nimble.

Said Gallagher: “In a world of finite resources the job that falls to the commonwealth is: How do you optimize and do the best with what you have to create the maximum amount of opportunity?

“I don’t believe that discussion can be done in buckets. Because the system of education is actually a system: We each contribute in different ways to that system… From my perspective there’s no resistance at all and I would welcome the chance to participate,” the chancellor said.  “I think what’s missing is not the czar but the convener. … We’d need a natural convener to pull everybody together. The only thing I would add is that we approach this not just as a cost minimization optimization, but a maximization of what’s possible for the commonwealth. There’s chances to work together where the synergies and the multiple pathways to an education and worker training can all be brought together,” he said.

Green of Lincoln said, “Some means of cooperation would be helpful and we do cooperate. I think we can do more of that.”

“Everybody can win by good collaboration,” said Englert of Temple, citing the opportunity to share ideas and forge collaborations. “We need to find some kind of sweet spot,” he said, noting the need for “the right balance between centralized coordination and the kind of innovation and ingenuity that comes from decentralized units.”

Appropriations committee minority chair Vincent Hughes (D-Montgomery and Philadelphia) said, “I really do think the charge for us in the General Assembly … is to try to convene a thoughtful conversation — when we’re not worried about appropriations issues, but when we’re thinking about how we need to set up the higher education reality in Pennsylvania in a longer vision.

“We are a flagship for higher education, not just for the state but for the nation. And we need to build upon that. I want us to be driving the conversation as opposed to being responding to the realities that exist.”

In closing, appropriations chair Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) concurred that regardless of the economic climate, education is crucial for today’s young people.

“The No. 1 thing that employers are looking for is workforce competence and intellectual capacity. Seventy percent of all jobs in the marketplace 2025 are going to require higher education. So the thinking regarding what education needs to be, in line with what Sen. Hughes had said, needs to change.

“We often talk about equity in primary and secondary education because that was always what children needed. … You need that other step, too.” The question of equity relates as well to higher education, he said, noting that the decisions made in Harrisburg affect access to higher education.

Browne said that the past eight years have been marked by struggles to balance the state budget by filling mandatory obligations first, “then trying to backfill everything else,” telling university leaders that he recognized the effect on their institutions.

“And when that happens, does that change the demographics that have access to your institutions and the overall question of equity?

“That, in terms of our future sustainability here, really concerns me. I don’t want to be in the position … of managing decline.

“If we’re not trying to strategically look at investing in our productive assets, which thriving organizations do … then we’re in serious trouble,” he said.


Budget hearings can be viewed at

—Kimberly K. Barlow


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