By SUSAN JONES
The annual state Senate and House appropriation hearings for the four state-related universities provided no fireworks, but did introduce lawmakers to Temple’s new president, Jason Wingard, and gave them an opportunity to bid farewell to Penn State President Eric Barron, who will retire later this year.
During the hearings on March 3 and 8, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher reiterated many of his talking points in response to lawmakers’ questions, including stressing how Pitt uses the state money.
“The entirety of the appropriation we get from the commonwealth is used to provide that in-state (tuition) discount,” he told the Senate committee. “There’s a direct correlation. And as Pennsylvania’s ability to support has dropped, we’ve seen the correlation with higher debt rates.”
Pitt is seeking a 5.5 percent increase in state funding this year, after receiving flat funding over the past two years. Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal contained a 5 percent increase for the state-related schools.
Other key points Gallagher discussed:
Pitt’s net tuition has been unchanged over the last five years, even as gross tuition levels have have gone up, Gallagher said. “We’re putting all of our increases into financial aid,” including the federal Pell Grant match program and limiting the total amount of unmet financial need. “The impact of that has been in the first couple of years of the program a 24 percent reduction in student debt and higher retention, particularly for first-generation, lower income and Pell recipients students.”
The chancellor said that 40 percent of Pitt’s undergraduates come from out of state and 65 percent of the University’s graduates stay in Pennsylvania. “So, we’re bringing in more than we’re losing, which we think is a great thing.”
Applications are up 60 percent over last year for the Oakland campus, but down 2.5 percent for the regional campuses. “My honest view is I don’t think we fully understand what’s driving this national pattern,” Gallagher said about the boom in applications for the Pittsburgh campus and other large state schools. “I don’t know how long it will last, but in the short run it is nothing short remarkable.”
In discussing how the universities contribute to the economic development in their regions, Gallagher touted the work of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, which he said supported 1,900 businesses in the 10-county region that add up to 10,000 jobs, and Pitt’s Small Business Development Center, which was rated the best in the country in 2020 by the Small Business Administration. He also mentioned the Titusville Hub, where Pitt has partnered with a community college and other job training groups, and the Community Engagement Centers as examples of Pitt working directly with communities.
When asked if their schools had disenrolled any student for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, all the university leaders said there were students disenrolled for being noncompliant with their vaccine policies, which required a vaccine or an exemption. All exemption requests at each school were honored, the leaders said.
The university leaders also discussed how they are moving to be more energy independent with renewable resources. “I think we are making real progress toward a shared vision that recognizes that Western Pennsylvania is a petroleum producing area. … But we also need to be building the future, which is clearly going to be a move toward decarbonizing and possibly reusing the same natural infrastructure for carbon sequestration storage,” Gallagher said. “We’d like to see Western Pennsylvania be a leader for global companies, research institutions, DOE (Department of Energy) national labs, to be a hub and have that advanced infrastructure where we can advance those technologies.” He also cited Pitt’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2037.
Rep. Kyle Mullins, of Lackawanna County, asked Gallagher about a research partnership Pitt has entered into with Nacero Corp. In 2020, the University signed a five-year research agreement with Nacero, which is constructing a facility in Nanticoke, Luzerne County, that will be devoted to producing gasoline with a low- or zero-lifecycle carbon footprint. “We have a number of partnerships with natural gas and petroleum industry, both nationally and certainly across Pennsylvania,” Gallagher said. “This technology would essentially gasify or create liquid gas from natural gas. So not cracking but the opposite where you're creating polymers or longer chain of petroleum molecules for liquid fuel vehicles. And so that obviously would allow natural gas to be diversified and to play an important role in in sort of mobile transportation dependent technologies.”
One lawmaker asked why the state-related schools are not subject to the state’s right-to-know act. There are some disclosures that the schools are required to submit, but not as much as the state-owned schools. “We believe that you’re right, there has to be a certain degree of transparency and accountability to the public sector,” Gallagher said. “And I thought we had been quite good at working with the the legislature in terms of tailoring that to what those needs are, and if those have shifted, we would certainly do it.” Penn State’s Barron said when he was at Florida State the right to know laws made faculty salaries public, and “it was a recruiting tool for other universities. They’d go in, see what my hot shots were being paid, offer them 15 percent more, and I would lose them to other states.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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