Local colleges take on budget cuts

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While there hasn’t been a single educational institution spared from cuts in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, colleges and universities in the State System of Higher Education are making the most noise in response to their apparent slight, and for good reason. Cuts to the state schools and state related schools averaged 50 percent across the board, the highest of any other cut in the governor’s budget proposal.

stopthecuts
STOP THE CUTS—From left: Jessica Thornton, Halim Genus and Kara Henderson, members of Pitt’s Black Action Society, protest at a rally in front of the Pitt Student Union on March 30. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

While cuts to local colleges and universities range from 50 percent to 10 percent, each school will have hard decisions to make. For many of these institutions, the hardest choice will be to increase tuition.

“These are choices that will make it far harder for the young people of Pennsylvania to use the power of education to build better lives; choices that will put a real financial squeeze on Pennsylvania families, often still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession; choices that will impede this region’s economic recovery; and choices that make it less likely that Pennsylvania as a state will compete and thrive in the 21st century,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

The budget proposes Community College of Allegheny County would lose only ten percent of its state funding, but this state funding accounts for 30 percent of the college’s budget. Conversely, while Pitt could lose 52 percent of it’s funding, the state’s contribution only accounts for less than 10 percent of the school’s budget.

“Our intent is to continue to keep our education accessible and at a high quality and affordable. The board of trustees does intend to vote on a budget in the next few months,” said David Hoovler, CCAC’s executive assistant to the president. “As we have been, we are working with other community colleges in the State just to emphasize the importance of community colleges for workforce development. We’d like to see the budget see full funding for community colleges. We’re just working and waiting to see what will happen.”

Several colleges and universities are banding together with like minded schools across the state to advocate on behalf of their students. On March 30, CCAC President Alex Johnson appeared before the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee to seek legislative support for restoring funding to community colleges.

“Although these proposed cuts are only part of a broader reduction in education funding, including even larger cuts in other higher education sectors, they could still be harmful to our students and, ultimately, the economic viability of the Commonwealth,” Johnson said in a press release. “Our budget unfortunately must consider the possibility of the cuts in the governor’s budget. It is the commitment of both my administration and the Board of Trustees that we do everything possible to keep a CCAC education affordable and not counter the progress being made in promoting student success.”

With negotiations still underway between schools, legislators and the Corbett administration, most colleges and universities have been tight lipped about how they will go about balancing their budgets. However most have admitted tuition increases are likely.

“Well, no steps to cover the immensity of the proposed state budget cuts are very palatable, but they must be considered if the cuts aren’t significantly tempered. We’re always working on efficiencies and have over the years become a very well-run operation. We will, of course, continue to become ever-more efficient, but, truth be told, we would have done so whether there were state cuts or not. This includes programmatic reorganizations to eliminate redundancy or programs with low demand,” Hill said. “And because the appropriation that is threatened by stunningly severe cuts was historically, and in practice, the funding stream designed to reduce tuition well below that of private institutions, when that appropriation gets slashed, so do the tuition differentials. So tuition will most certainly bear some of the brunt.”

Students from schools across the city have also been speaking out in protest of the budget cuts. Pitt students held a rally on March 30 and on April 5 CCAC students went to Harrisburg with student from other Pennsylvania community colleges.

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