State senators float idea of higher education funding commission at budget hearing


Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, along with the leaders of the three other state-related universities, appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 26 and one of the big topics was a possible higher education funding commission.

State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, talked about possibly forming a commission on higher education funding priorities, similar to one in 2014-15 that looked at the funding formula for state aid to school districts.

Gallagher said after the hearing that he recommended a panel like this at last year’s budget presentation to help clarify what the state’s goals are for higher education, which includes the state-related universities, the PA State System of Higher Education, community colleges and PHEAA grants.

“It’s really a policy question for the Commonwealth — that for a state that has a very low level of overall investment in higher education, measured either per capita or per income, you also on top of that (low) amount have a question of allocation,” he said. “How are those funds allocated to different programs?

“It’s very difficult for … any president or chancellor to go up and you make your case for your own institution, but what we’re often facing is a policy ambiguity at the state level about what their priorities are. So if this commission begins to provide some clarity on what the state is really trying to do, we think that clarity is overall a beneficial thing.”

Eric Barron, president of Penn State, told the senators that if the state’s funding of higher education had kept pace with inflation since 2000, his university would have been able to drop tuition by 15 percent.

The amount of funding each of the state-related schools gets is still rebounding from sharp cuts during the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett from 2011-15. There have been increases the past five years.

Pitt received an increase of 2.8 percent for the 2018-19 budget year and is asking for a 6.5 percent increase for 2019-20. Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed keeping funding flat for all four state-related universities, which also includes Temple and Lincoln Universities.

“We always go into this exercise — that’s kind of just getting underway and culminates mid-summer — by trying to minimize any tuition increases,” Gallagher said after the hearing. “But a lot of things go into that, including what cost savings we can realize, what’s happening with costs, how much the appropriation came in, what all other sources of revenue did and what our emerging enrollment picture looks like.

“It’s really too early to look at thresholds about what level of state support translates into what tuition level, because the truth of the matter is that the state appropriation accounts for less than 10 percent of the total revenues of the University. And so it alone doesn’t dictate what happens to the tuition schedule, even really for the in-state students.”

Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, asked the university leaders what the primary factor was driving them to request more than the governor has proposed in his budget.

Gallagher, Barron and Temple University’s President Richard Englert all said their main goal was to maintain affordability and not increase tuition for in-state students.

The full hearing can be seen on

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.