By SUSAN JONES
Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher testified at hearings March 3 before the state House and Senate but escaped some of the grilling leveled at his colleague from Penn.
The annual hearings included the leaders of all four state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln.
In documents submitted in the fall, Pitt requested a 5.5 percent increase in its appropriation from the state. Gov. Tom Wolf once again proposed flat funding for Pitt and the three other state-related universities. Pitt now receives less than 8 percent of its overall budget from the state versus the more than 30 percent it received in the mid-1970s. Wolf proposed no funding increase for the four schools last year too, but the final budget had a 2 percent increase.
In his opening remarks to the Senate, Gallagher said, “We have never lived in a time where higher educational attainment has been more important, economically, socially or even from a person’s health and well-being, but it’s also the case that what you walk away with when you graduate with your baccalaureate degree is rarely the last touch point you’re going to have with higher education. We’re entering a time of continuous learning, multiple career changes, new opportunities as all these technologies permeate the workforce.
“Pitt has been focused on … removing this discontinuity between graduation and being an alumnus, we call it Pitt for Life. And using the University as a lifelong portal to access continuing education … and addressing those adult learner populations, much of that technology enabled.”
Gallagher told the Senate about plans at Pitt–Titusville to create a Hub model with multiple tenants, including Northern Pennsylvania Regional College and Manchester Bidwell Corp., to provide a knowledge base that is desirable to employers in that area. There would be “no wrong door for the students” to enter into the college. He said Pitt is starting to tailor what it offers at its other branch campuses to local demand.
When the schools’ leaders were asked about containing costs on their campuses, Gallagher said the single biggest cost Pitt faces is financial aid, “and that’s probably a good kind of cost increase to be having, because it means we’re pushing aid to students and families that need it.”
Two factors figure into personnel costs, he said. One is the need to stay competitive in the market to attract the best faculty, and the other is the need to maintain the institution’s quality and reputation. “Things that you would normally do in an industry to increase productivity, such as bigger classes, actually work against you in education because they diminish your market standing.”
Penn State President Eric Barron echoed that sentiment: “The reason why Penn State, despite the fact that it has relatively high tuition … had 132,000 people apply to come to Penn State last year is because they are attracted to quality.”
Gallagher said the big focus on cost cutting at Pitt lately has been on “lowering utility exposure through energy efficiency and renovations across the campus as we update our campus infrastructure.” Pitt also is using its purchasing power to get better deals on services and taking advantage of market conditions to refinance debt.
The senators and representatives quizzed the university leaders about student debt, which Gallagher said is an ongoing concern for Pitt. He used this opportunity to once again promote Pitt Success, which matches Pell grant recipients’ awards, and the Panthers Forward program, which gives $5,000 to eligible graduating seniors to help pay down debt with the expectation that they will contribute to the fund in the future.
Even with a 2.75 percent tuition increase for most in-state students and 5 percent for most out-of-state students for this fiscal year, Gallagher said the net tuition revenue was down. He also worries about schools from neighboring states deliberately offering packages to Pennsylvania students that undercut Pitt’s tuition. “It’s not very expensive to make that because they’re sitting with more in state support.”
Representatives at the House hearings asked several more pointed questions about specific programs.
Pitt’s recent issues around socially responsible investing and divesting from fossil fuel related companies came in for some scrutiny. He told the lawmakers that while a group of dedicated students, along with alumni and community members, have been advocating for divestment — including at a protest at the Board of Trustees meeting last week — “our position has been pretty clear that that’s a decision that only the Board of Trustees can make.”
“So what we did is put together a process that at least lets the full issue be studied, where we could take hearings and collect input from the community, but also expert opinion from investors, energy experts and so forth, to support whatever possible role the board would have. So if the board invites me to do that, that’s what we would do.”
There is no timeframe on forming such a group; Gallagher is waiting for the board to invite him to do that.
Gallagher also detailed Pitt’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2037, which was announced at last week’s board meeting.
Penn State’s President Eric Barron was put on the hot seat a few times, but particularly for the proposed $71 million art museum on campus. He told the lawmakers that no state funds would be used for the project and that several million dollars in donations have already been received. Penn State also will use excess funding from Big Ten media contract negotiations on the project.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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