Pennsylvania Higher Ed Funding Won’t Be Cut, But Won’t Rise

A proposed cut for higher education funding in Pennsylvania has been cancelled, says The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Karen Langley. Governor Tom Corbett announced on February 1 that an agreement among the public universities will allow the state to keep its funding level for higher education steady from 2012 to 2013.  The state will spend $1.58 billion for the second year in a row.

Universities received flat funding this year after legislators undid $245 million in proposed cuts. In exchange for their restorations, Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University agreed to limit any tuition increase this year to the consumer price index.

The public universities have together kept their tuition increases to the lowest rate in ten years. Temple University did not raise tuition at all, while Penn State last year kept its increase below 3%.

Like many states, Pennsylvania faces a budget crisis. Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman pointed out that Medicaid and debt service, among other things, will push Pennsylvania’s spending beyond its tax revenue next year. It was not easy to see how university funding could be rescued, but a commission of business and education leaders studied the matter and presented a recommendation. The key was an agreement about tuition:

In November, an advisory commission recommended the state level-fund higher education next year and tie future increases to the success of post-secondary institutions in keeping their programs accessible and affordable. The commission was made up of leaders in business and higher education, including Mark Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.

Nordenberg said that his commission thought higher education should develop performance evaluation methods as used in business. One measure would be tuition growth, but not surprisingly, the businessmen on the commission also suggested measuring university responsiveness to workforce needs. They should also track how they are doing in reaching groups that don’t traditionally make it to university.

At the announcement this afternoon, Mr. Nordenberg thanked the governor for launching the budget season “in ways that are consistent” with the commission’s recommendations. “That report really does provide us with a constructive path moving forward,” he said.

The governor too set an optimistic tone in his Harrisburg press conference, joined by Penn State trustees and state representatives whose districts have public universities. He declared that students should not begin their working lives with a mountain of debt due to constant tuition increases. Not only has funding remained steady for two years, but 2013 will also be the second year that Pennsylvania has put 40% of its state budget toward education.

The state’s higher education system comprises not only the large Penn State, University of Pittsburgh and Temple University campuses, but also a string of smaller public universities. These fourteen universities have tuition that is as much as half as low as the large public universities’ rates. West Chester, Indiana, Bloomsburg and Kutztown are the largest campuses. In-state tuition for the current school year is $6,428.

Some other states are beginning to recover from budget problems and increase funding for higher education. A recent report by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed that 30 states expect to increase spending by as little as .1% or as much as 14%. Most states have slashed education spending in the last five years, but more are now keeping it at least level, like Pennsylvania. Projections estimate that it will take some time for rates to return to pre-2008 levels.

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