As Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities face a cut in state funding of approximately $240 million, one Republican senator has jumped to the forefront to challenge the cuts to higher education in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal.
“My reaction has been that I think higher education has done more than its fair share to balance the state budget so my goal is to see what I can do to see they don’t get any more cuts like they did last year,” said Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman, R-Centre County. “Last year they took a 20 percent reduction and they were flat funded for a decade. They’ve already done with less for a long time now and to cut them further really erodes at their public mission.”
Corman, who serves as chairman of the State Appropriations Committee, said higher education was one of the few line items in the state budget that has seen it’s funding remain stagnant for approximately ten years. Then after Gov. Corbett took office in 2011, higher education was cut by 20 percent and now the governor’s most recent budget proposal includes another 20 to 30 percent cut.
“I don’t know that they’re being targeted, but you look at these large universities and they probably have a better ability to absorb these kinds of cuts,” Corman said. “But unfortunately it ultimately comes down ton the students.” ‘
The cuts would reduce funding to 14 colleges in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education by 20 percent. Funding for state-related colleges and universities such as the University of Pittsburgh would by cut by 30 percents. However, funding for the state’s community colleges would be cut at a comparably lower rate of four percent.
“The state benefits tremendously from its investment in these institutions, from an economic perspective with the jobs they create,” Corman said. “So that’s going to be our challenge. We’ll go through the entire budget. I’m sure there’s lots of members who are supportive of higher education; we just have to wait and see.”
State funding for PASSHE is only $2 million higher than it was 24 years ago in 1988-89. And, while PASSHE has reduced it’s operating costs by $230 million over the past decade, they now serve an additional 23,000 students.
“The number one priority of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the success of our students. We agree with Governor Corbett that the needs of our students come first. We also agree with the governor that every family in Pennsylvania should be able to afford higher education. That is why we have been very vigilant, not only in keeping our tuition the lowest in the Commonwealth, but also in maintaining the cost of attendance below the average in the mid- Atlantic region,” said a joint statement from Guido Pichini, chair of the PASSHE’s Board of Governors, and PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh. “The proposed budget represents the latest in a cascade of reductions to the State System in the past 18 months…Taken together, these reductions now mean that we must increasingly decide whether to renovate and maintain our existing physical plant or provide students the courses and programs they require to graduate.”
However, some have criticized colleges and universities for increasing their costs. Some economists predict the cost of attending a state college will rise to $120,000 by 2015. While the overall inflation rate has increase by 115 percent since 1986, the cost of tuition has increase by approximately 500 percent.