Gov. to Seek Level Funding for Higher Education

With Governor Tom Corbett’s commitment to level-fund higher education in the new fiscal year, state-owned and state-related university officials are pledging to keep any tuition hikes as low as possible.  “This agreement, this working together, will allow our schools to better plan their budgets for the coming year and make the best use of their resources,” Corbett said at a capitol news conference.  “Their commitment should allow students, and particularly their families, to plan their own budgets accordingly.”  Corbett was flanked by the state’s higher education leaders as he made Friday’s announcement. 

This agreement – level-funding in exchange for minimal tuition hikes – is similar to a deal that was ultimately struck last year.  Corbett says it resulted in the lowest tuition increases in more than a decade.  “For example, Temple University did not raise tuition last year; Penn State had their lowest tuition increase in nearly 40-years.” 

The state appropriated nearly $1.6-billion to higher education in the current fiscal year, and Corbett is proposing the same amount for FY2013-14. 

State Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre) says level-funding is significant in what continue to be difficult budget times.  “As Appropriations Chairman I can tell you that this coming fiscal year… our cost-carry-forward items – such as Medicaid, debt service, corrections, things of that nature – will grow at a higher rate than what our revenues will grow next year,” he explains. 

This sort of early collaboration between Governor Corbett and the higher education community is a change of pace from previous budget cycles.  Two years ago, higher education received a near 20% cut, after even steeper cuts were initially proposed.  Last year, a level-funding deal wasn’t struck until long after Corbett proposed another round of stiff cuts

With that track record in mind, Democrats don’t seem too impressed with Friday’s announcement.  “By flat funding higher education, Tom Corbett is keeping in place harsh cuts from past budgets and ignoring cost of living increases,” says Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn, “Tom Corbett has the wrong priorities.” 

Corbett will discuss all of his priorities on Tuesday when he delivers his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

Resource Extraction Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

A mineral resources bill could provide a new revenue stream for the 14-universities in the State System of Higher Education.  SB 367 is now awaiting the governor’s signature after clearing both the House and Senate.  It would authorize mineral leases for more state-owned land, like prisons or state-owned universities. 

“Currently the law only permits the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and the Game Commission or Fish & Boat Commission to enter into such leases,” explains Senator Don White (R-Indiana), the bill’s prime sponsor. 

The minerals the bill refers to could include everything from limestone to coal; but most importantly Marcellus Shale natural gas. 

Governor Tom Corbett spoke out in favor of the concept on Radio PA’s Ask the Governor program, stressing that horizontal natural gas drilling allows for the wells to be thousands of feet off site – not right in the middle of a the university’s quadrangle. 

“This will be beneficial to the student body, if we get tuition reduction, beneficial to the schools and to the State System of Higher Education,” Corbett explains.

Under White’s bill, money raised from the leasing of mineral rights at a state-owned university would be allocated as follows: 50% stays with the home university, 35% is distributed system-wide, and 15% would be used for tuition assistance across all 14-schools.

California University of Pennsylvania

Lawmaker Blasts State System Tuition Hike

Angry with the State System of Higher Education’s decision to raise tuition rates by 3% this fall, State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) issued a blunt statement this week, which said it “should be ashamed of itself” for trying to take advantage of students.

Roae tells Radio PA the US Department of Labor recently reported that the Consumer Price Index inflation rate last year was 1.7%.  “But the PASSHE board is calling the 3% tuition increase a below inflation rate increase, which I think is pretty bogus,” Roae explains.  He believes the tuition hike is unnecessary and will only serve to make a college education less affordable.

PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall stands by their assertion that tuition has been held under the rate of inflation for the fifth time in the past eight years.  He says the Consumer Price Index and inflation rate are not interchangeable.  “The CPI is actually a number that can be used to calculate the inflation rate… and based on that 1.7% CPI, the annual inflation rate is actually 3.1%.”

Higher Education Rally

Students rallied against proposed higher education budget cuts this spring. In the end, the new state budget included level funding for state-owned and state-related universities.

The mathematical debate notwithstanding, Rep. Roae believes State System tuition should be frozen.  “My ten piece bill package would do what the PASSHE board should be doing, and that’s looking at ways to keep costs down so that tuition isn’t so high.”  In addition to a tuition freeze, Roae’s bills would cap university presidents’ salaries, make full-time professors teach more hours, end paid sabbatical leave and more.

But Marshall says they’ve been actively engaged in costs controls for more than a decade.  “We’ve reduced our costs by almost $230-million dollars over the past ten years,” he says.  That includes 900-positions being left vacant in the past two years alone.

In-state, undergraduate tuition at all 14-state-owned universities will be $6,428 this fall.

Higher Education Rally, Capitol Steps

Students Rally to Stop Higher Ed Funding Cuts

Higher Education Rally

East Stroudsburg University student Emily Sasz

Fed up with the prospect of another round of deep budget cuts, several hundred students marched down State Street and up the state capitol steps on Wednesday.  They carried signs that read “Some Cuts Never Heal” and Save Our Ship;” the latter of course referring to Shippensburg University, which is one of the 14-schools that compose the State System of Higher Education.     

West Chester University senior Rachel Wittman has already seen the effects last year’s 18% funding cuts have had on campus.  “Some classes just got completely cut,” Wittman explains.  “Those are things that these people are passionate about, that they want to do, they want to learn, but they can’t.”  Tuition was also hiked by more than $400-dollars across the system for the current school year. 

Higher Education Rally

Edinboro University student Kristina Kaiser

This year Governor Tom Corbett has proposed 20% cuts for the State System, and California University of Pennsylvania grad student Shane Assadzandi is fed up.  “This year when the pattern continued, myself and several students at our school, we knew it was time to stand up and take a stand against this.” 

Radio PA also caught up with APSCUF President Steve Hicks at the capitol rally.  “You’re going to hurt working class families, middle class families in the Commonwealth, and you’re going to shrink the number of degrees at a time when we need to increase it,” he says.   Hicks ultimately hopes for level funding in the new state budget.  APSCUF represents faculty and coaches at the 14-State System Schools.

Governor Tom Corbett Proposes $27.139 Billion Budget

    Governor Tom Corbett has unveiled his budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The $27.1 billion spending plan comes in $10 million under the current year’s actual budget and represents what the governor calls a realistic budget in difficult times.

    Prior to the Governor’s speech to a joint session of the General Assembly, state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby reported that the projected revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year is up to $719 million, putting more pressure on the governor and lawmakers who will have to craft the next budget.

    While basic education would see a slight increase in its General Fund subsidy, it would all but hold the line from last year’s overall number. The governor took the opportunity during his address to chastise political opponents, saying they misrepresented his education budget last year. The governor says he raised basic ed funding, but the evaporation of federal stimulus dollars results in an overall decrease in spending.

    Governor Corbett is proposing more deep cuts to higher education, which last year was slashed by about 20%. This year, the 14 state-owned universities would see their state funding slashed by another 20% under the governor’s plan. Meanwhile, three of the four state-related universities – Penn State, PITT and Temple – would average 30% cuts. Lincoln University would receive the same funding level as last year. Governor Corbett also announced the formation of a special panel to examine the way higher education is funded in Pennsylvania. He has appointed former state Senator Rob Wonderling to head that committee and report back in November.

    Next up in the state budget process: weeks of budget hearings in Harrisburg, then lawmakers will try to iron out a final spending plan that will be brought to the floors of the House and Senate by June 30th.


Tuition Will Increase at Pennsylvania’s 14 State Owned Universities

Tuition will be going up for students attending Pennsylvania’s 14 state owned universities.  The Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education has approved the increase to help make up part of the gap left by the state budget.

In-state students will pay an additional 7.5%  for tuition, or $218 per semester and 50% more for their technology fee, an increase of $58 per semester for the 2011-2012 academic year.  The tuition for out-of-state students was still being calculated.  Chancellor John Cavanaugh told the board the schools will still face a gap of about $33 million after the increases.

Dr. Cavanaugh says a 1% increase in tuition translates into $8.5 million.  The total gap was $112 million, including a reduction of more than $90 million in state funding under the budget approved by the General Assembly this week. The Governor’s original budget plan had called for an even steeper cut in state funding.  Dr. Cavanaugh says the system had been saying all along they would not totally make up the difference through tuition increases.

Prior to the vote, Steve Hicks, President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), told the board they’ve done a great job in the last six years keeping tuition down, maybe too good a job. He says Pennsylvania had  the lowest tuition increases in the country for a public system for the last six years, going from above the national average, to $600 below it.  He asked the board to vote for an increase that fills most of the gap left by the legislature.

APSCUF Vice President Ken Mash says the Office of the Chancellor has worked very hard to look for areas to reduce costs.  He says the presidents and everyone at the universities have risen to the challenge, seeking to preserve high quality education while repeatedly reducing expenditures.  He says efficiency has reached its pinnacle, the budget ax has simply hit bone.

Board of Governors student representative Leonard Altieri III, who attends West Chester University, said students knew a tuition increase was coming.  He said he’s extremely comfortable with this increase, because students see what happens when the schools don’t have the funds, with programs that get cut from the campuses.

The increase is the highest since the 2002-2003 school year, when tuition was raised by 9%.

The state system schools are Bloomsburg, California, Cheney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.