PracticalDad:  What If Pennsylvania Cuts Higher Education Funding By 50%?

I was stunned to find last week that the new Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett (R), planned to cut funding to higher education by fully 50% as he attempts to honor his campaign promise of eliminating a $4 Billion deficit without raising any taxes. The backdraft has been significant and I know folks at a local state university who have been told to prepare for the worst. But apart from the sheer magnitude of the cut, what might it mean for the young people and their families?  It helps to consider other numbers in order to gain a better perspective on the issue, so let’s examine things a bit further.

First, consider the higher education budget in perspective.  In the previous year, the higher education piece was about $1.3 Billion, or 4.5% of the entire state budget of $29 Billion.  But the amount removed actually constitutes 16.5% of the $4 Billion deficit that’s being eliminated; this is disproportionate by a factor of more than 3 times the original contribution.  This cut is across all of the institutions in the state system, PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) which includes not only the flagship Penn State University, but also 14 smaller universities as well as 4 quasi-private universities such of Pitt and Temple.  The amount of the state’s contribution to higher education has decreased over the past decade or more and will finally fall to a level not seen since the formation of PASSHE in the early 1980s. 

Second, consider the effect upon individual institutions themselves.  Everybody’s first thought upon announcement was to determine what Penn State’s leadership would say, but PSU only receives about 8% of its funding via state appropriations.  The smaller 14 universities actually receive around 30% of their funding from the state and it’s here that the pain will occur, especially since many of these are either operating with an already existent deficit or have only kept up with the already declining funding by eliminating faculty positions and / or programs and upgrades.  For a case in point, examine some "back of the envelope" calculations on two state universities, Millersville University (MU) and Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).  Given the already strained financial positions and the reality that much spending is already constrained by contracts that won’t be completed by the time that the budget passes, it’s a fair assumption that much of the funding cuts will be made up on the backs of the students. 


Tuition Effect of Pennsylvania’s Budget Cuts
  2010 Budget ($) 2010 State Funding ($) State’s % Cut If Passed ($) Enrollment Tuition Rise ($)
MU 107 M 37 M 35 18.5 M 8700 2126
IUP 158 M 52 M 33 26 M 15100 1721


The effect would be a single year rise of 12.8% for those at Millersville University and 10.5% for the students at IUP.  While the percentages – back of the envelope as they are – aren’t as dire as California’s 33% increase in 2009, they are a staggering blow to students and their families.  The upshot is that even more students will extend the time that it takes to obtain a degree and the reality is that the longer it takes, the less likely to obtain it.

Budget cuts have to happen and most understand that simple concept.  We have an obligation to care for those less or unable to care for themselves, as we always have.  But we also have an obligation to prepare for our future and a large part of that is creating both a citizenry and workforce that can function, compete and prosper against others in the coming years.  We can’t talk about competing with other states, let alone countries, when we fail to provide reasonably priced education for our young people and the ultimate result will be a more poorly educated and less competitive populace.  And a smaller one as they move away to find the financially self-supporting jobs that accrue to regions and states that help prepare their people for the world.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *