State System board of governors’ chair states: “It’s time to invest in our state-owned universities”

north hall

The following is an op-ed piece from Chairman Pichini briefly outlining the System's current financial situation, the rationale for last week's tuition decision and the need for increased investment in higher education by the Commonwealth.

July 16, 2015

Harrisburg, Pa. - Perhaps the most important decision the Board of Governors of Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education makes each year involves setting tuition for Pennsylvania's 14 public universities.

The Board has sought to maintain a balance between keeping tuition affordable and making certain the universities have the resources they need to continue to offer high-quality, high-value educational opportunities to students. As state support has declined over the years--now covering only a quarter of operating costs--it has become increasingly difficult to strike that balance.

guido pichini

   PICHINI

The State System has received flat funding for the past four years. What's more, that amount is essentially the same as was received 17 years ago, and we are serving 15,000 more students today.

Even with the tuition increase the Board approved last week, the State System universities remain the most affordable for students and their families among all four-year colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.

But there may still be a price to pay.

Without increased funding from the Commonwealth, the universities could face significant programmatic and personnel reductions--again. Over the last decade, our 14 universities have cut more than $270 million to help balance their budgets each year. That has undoubtedly affected some programs and services for students.

Going into last week's meeting, the Board was facing a projected 2015-16 budget deficit of at least $66.8 million for the State System. Like everyone else, our bills are going up, especially in the areas of healthcare and pensions, over which we have virtually no control.

By voting to increase the annual tuition by $240 next year, we have asked our students and their families to help close half of the projected budget gap. That still leaves an estimated shortfall of more than $33 million that must be addressed.

There are essentially two ways to fill the remaining budget gap: either the universities will have to make even deeper cuts, or the Commonwealth can increase its investment in our state-owned universities.

The universities certainly have stepped up over the last decade to become more efficient in their daily operations. The students and their families have done their part by increasing the amount they contribute to the cost of their education.

Thankfully, both the General Assembly and Governor Wolf have indicated their desire to increase funding to the State System, and we are grateful for their support. As they continue to work toward agreement on a new state budget, we are hopeful they will increase state investment in our universities.

After all, closing the funding gap will benefit not only our students, but the entire Commonwealth. Our 14 universities combined generate an annual economic and employment impact in excess of $6.7 billion and 62,000 jobs (in addition to the 12,000 who work at the universities). In simplest terms, every dollar invested by the Commonwealth in the State System generates $11 in economic activity across the state.

Investing in the State System - and its students - will ensure a stronger Pennsylvania for everyone.