State System leaders support 2016-17 funding request


frank brogan


March 3, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan and other system leaders urged members of both the House and Senate appropriations committees March 2 to support increased funding for the state-owned universities as they consider the proposed 2016-17 commonwealth budget.

The State System has requested a 2016-17 state appropriation of $521.2 million, which would represent an approximately $87.8 million increase over the level recommended in this year's still-unfinished budget.

The system is facing at least $41 million in mandatory cost increases next year, and also is seeking an additional nearly $47 million from the state to invest in student support services and new academic programs, such as those in the high-demand STEM and healthcare fields; online learning; and other initiatives important to strengthening Pennsylvania's economy.

"New investment from the state is necessary to meet rising costs over which we have no control, especially pensions and healthcare; to make strategic investments to meet the Commonwealth's needs; and most important, to be able to continue to offer the high-quality, high-value education our students, their future employers and the Commonwealth expect and deserve," Brogan said.

The State System has not received an increase in state funding since 2007-08 and has seen its appropriation cut three times by a combined total of more than $90 million during that time. It is receiving essentially the same amount of funding from the state this year as it did in 1997-98, even though it is educating 13,000 more students.

The 14 State System universities have eliminated more than $300 million from their operating budgets over the last decade, reducing overall staffing levels by nearly 900 employees. However, costs continue to rise, creating significant pressure on all of the campuses.

Brogan appeared before both committees along with Michael Driscoll, president of Indiana University; Drew Johnson, president of East Stroudsburg University's student government association; and Lois Johnson, State System associate vice chancellor for administration and finance.

Board of Governors Chairman Guido Pichini said in support of the State System's appropriations request: "Investing in the State System and in our students is one of the best investments the commonwealth can make. Nearly 90 percent of our students are Pennsylvania residents; the vast majority will stay here after graduation - to live, to work and to raise their families. They truly represent Pennsylvania's future."

Going without a funding increase from the state since before the beginning of the recession has required State System universities to make significant budget cuts every year, Pichini said. In addition to reductions in staffing and student services, the universities also have had to delay tens of millions of dollars in maintenance projects, leaving some campus buildings badly in need of repairs.

"Every one of our universities has had to make extremely difficult decisions to balance their budgets," said Pichini. "At least beginning to restore funding to the State System is essential."

In addition to responding to questions related to next year's appropriations request, Brogan also told the committee that the State System is beginning to look at ways it can better organize itself for the future.

"We are working with the board of governors to begin an effort to identify options for operational and organization modernization across the system," Brogan said. "As part of this process, we are looking at what other states and systems are doing to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness."

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