A day after Governor Tom Corbett’s budget address, Pennsylvania’s higher education community still seems to be in shock.
The Republican wants to slash funding for the 14 State System of Higher Education schools from $444 million to $232 million. State-related universities don’t fare any better. Penn State’s funding, for instance, would drop from $304 million to $152 million. “The cut proposed is believed to be the single-largest appropriation cut in the history of American higher education,” said Penn State President Graham Spanier at a State College press conference, calling it, “a near-total abandonment of higher education.” Spanier predicted Penn State would cope with the cuts by increasing education, trimming courses, freezing or decreasing employees’ pay and benefits, and halting new projects. He warned the school might even close some of its satellite campuses. The University of Pittsburgh's appropriations are being cut by about $110 million.
The reductions would have an even bigger impact on smaller schools, according to administrators. Roger Bruszewski, a vice president at Lancaster County’s Millersville University, said “there are no models” for overcoming a 50-percent cut in state support. Corbett’s proposal means $22 million of the school’s $106 million overall budget would disappear. “No matter what we do with tuition, we are not going to have the course availability that we’ve had in the past. So that means students will be able to graduate in four years. If they can’t graduate in four years, that means it’s going to cost them more long-term before they graduate,” he said. “Forget the tuition increase. If it takes them five years to graduate because they can’t get the courses or the programs they need, that means additional costs them no matter what. So that’s a big concern.”
Millersville’s annual tuition increase has been about 4.3 percent over the past ten years, according to Bruszewski. “To think you can solve a $20 million problem with 4.3 percent is unrealistic. To give you an idea, a one percent increase in tuition for us [raises] about $538 thousand.”
Representatives from all 14 SSHE schools met Wednesday afternoon outside Harrisburg, to go through the implications of the cuts. Bruszewski says the schools are beginning to formulate their response, and that a state Capitol rally for funding restoration is being planned for early April.