March 15, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
SRU president outlines potential state budget cut impact
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Promising Slippery Rock University would not panic in the face of a $22.1 million potential budget shortfall, President Robert Smith called on faculty, staff and students to be informed participants in the budget planning process, and to advocate for higher education during the state budget process.
Smith addressed more than 450 members of the University community Tuesday, and nearly 400 more Thursday, to update the campus on issues related to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget that cuts funding for higher education in the commonwealth by 52 percent.
Joshua Young, chair of SRU’s Council of Trustees, and Eric Holmes, a trustee, attended the Thursday session.
Smith thanked both groups for their participation, saying their attendance clearly showed their concern and interest, along with a willingness to get involved in the University’s future.
The budget sessions, Smith told the audiences, were a means of keeping the campus informed “so you know what the challenges are. Just know that no decisions have been finalized. At this point, we just don’t know how the final budget will come out. We must do everything we can to make this budget as successful as possible for SRU.”
That governor’s proposed budget is now under review by the legislature and could undergo changes, including increases in funding for education in the Keystone state.
“What we are involved in is uncharted territory. We have never been so threatened about public education in the commonwealth. We must take advantage of opportunities to address the legislature and advocate for Slippery Rock University and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education,” Smith said. “We have a great story to tell. The University is an important resource for the commonwealth, and in particular to western Pennsylvania.”
Gov. Corbett has asked the legislature to approve $232,599 million to fund PASSHE for 2010-11; PASSHE had requested $503,355 million. The current appropriation for the state system is $465,197 million. Corbett’s request represents a 50 percent decrease in funding for the coming fiscal year. SRU anticipates a 2 percent enrollment growth for the coming academic year.
To make up for the loss of state support, more than $2,400 would have to be added to each student’s annual tuition. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I can tell you that is not going to happen,” Smith said.
SRU’s share of the PASSHE allocation is about $36 million, but would be reduced to $18 million under the governor’s plan for 2011-12.
The governor also proposed 100 percent funding cuts for the McKeever Environmental Education Center at Sandy Lake and the Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education in downtown Slippery Rock. Both programs are administered by SRU.
Smith said if the governor’s proposal is adopted it would reduce PASSHE’s allocation to below 1983 levels – the year the state system was created and enrolled 81,534 students. Current state system enrollment is 120,000.
SRU will participate in the PASSHE-organized Advocacy Days April 4-5 in Harrisburg, by sending a contingent of students to meet with legislators to discuss the University’s regional and statewide benefits – and needs.
Smith asked workshop participants to review the economic impact study completed by the Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., which documents that SRU and its alumni generate approximately $334 million each year to the regional economy – the equivalent of 9,020 average-wage jobs. The comprehensive, and independent, study determined the University returns $18.60 in benefits to the economy for every tax $1 invested. “Those benefits accrue to all Pennsylvania residents,” Smith said.
“SRU saves and enhances jobs in western Pennsylvania,” Smith said. “Investing in education is a positive for Pennsylvania. At SRU, the percent of students who remain in Pennsylvania – 93 percent – is greater than the percent of students who come from Pennsylvania – 90 percent. We are a ‘brain gain’ for the state.”
Smith pointed to SRU’s annual graduation of 1,500 students and said the University had increased its six-year graduation rate “well above the national average for public universities. We have seen a 17 percent increase in the last four years. In a typical year, SRU certifies more than 385 teachers, 290 of whom take positions in the commonwealth.” He said he expected those numbers to further improve after SRU’s spring graduation.
In discussing the potential budget impact the governor’s plan would have on SRU, Smith said the University was facing the possible loss of $22.1 million when compared to a year ago. He said a small portion of the loss could be made up by an expected tuition increase if approved in July by the PASSHE board of governors. “However, in terms of personnel, it is inevitable that some jobs will be lost,” Smith said.
“Still,” Smith said, “it is early in the budget process. If SRU and the state system are able to advocate for increased funding support, we could reduce the number of anticipated furloughs.”
“SRU will stay with its core values in building a budget, both in its projections and in its final budget after the legislature acts,” Smith said. “Students come first. Educating students is always the highest priority. The budget will be formed in consultation with faculty, students and administration on matters of the strategic plan. Budget decisions are an inherent integral part of the shared governance of the University.”
“Cuts and/or increases would not made ‘across-the-board.’ Doing so violates the purpose of the strategic plan and is a formula for mediocrity,” he said.
“The University cannot be all things to all people. The budget reinforces the strategic priorities of the University to preserve the overall quality of the institution,” Smith said.
We are going to sustain our investment in quality, he said. “Strategic decisions will continue to set SRU apart. We are committed to a faculty that is full time and professionally credentialed. We are committed to sustaining academic programs, to maintaining our teaching/learning environment, campus safety and security. We are committed to recruiting, educating and graduating high-quality, engaged students.”
The president also addressed continued construction and physical plant upgrades in the face of severe budget cuts. He said funds for operating costs and funds for capital improvements are separate. “I cannot move funds from one area to the other. Only the legislature has that authority. I continue to advocate for capital projects because if we don’t get the projects we need, the money will simply go to a project somewhere else. And, that will have a long-range impact on the University if our facilities fall behind, thus impacting the students who would come to SRU in five or 10 years. I am thinking about the future of SRU and the need for these facilities remains strong.”
Smith said the campus would continue to be informed both with follow-up workshops and via the SRU Web site where budget information is posted. He said the entire University community is being asked to get involved in the budget process by offering suggestions on where cuts can be made, savings increased and expenses decreased.
SRU’s budgeting process will continue through early summer, including various workshops and consideration by vice presidents of proposals coming from within their divisions. The SRU Council of Trustees will be updated in June on near-final budget plans, with any action on tuition expected at the July board of governor’s session. Budget planning information is available at: http://administration.sru.edu/president/budget/index.php.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.