Corbett to propose 20% to 30% funding cuts for Pa. state universities

Posted: February 07, 2012

Pennsylvania's state universities would take another big funding cut under Gov. Corbett's 2012-13 budget proposal to be released Tuesday morning, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, including West Chester and Cheyney, would see their state funding cut 20 percent under Corbett's proposed budget as of Monday, sources confirmed.

The four state-related universities - Temple, Penn State, Lincoln, and the University of Pittsburgh - would be cut 30 percent, sources said.

The proposed cuts follow a substantial decrease in funding to the state universities in the current year that led to tuition increases at all 18 schools, as well as a recently announced midyear, 5 percent retraction of funding.

"For the second year, we're going to force universities to raise tuition at a time when we should make access to education affordable," said Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) of the Republican governor's budget.

The governor last year proposed a 50 percent cut in funding to the state-related universities; ultimately a 19 percent cut was adopted after negotiations with the General Assembly.

"I don't know if the governor will do what he did last year - come out with a large number hoping he gets half of it," said Art Hochner, president of the 1,350-member Temple faculty union.

The Corbett administration has warned about the state's worsening budget picture. State revenue is down 3.5 percent, or nearly $500 million lower than projected since July 2011. The most recent figures, for January 2012, continue that trend, falling $10 million or 0.5 percent less than anticipated.

Most officials at local universities were hesitant to comment, wanting to wait and see if the numbers change before the governor delivers his address.

Robert R. Jennings, president of Lincoln University, said that another cut would be "completely devastating" to the historically black institution.

Lincoln raised tuition 7.5 percent after a 19 percent funding reduction last year.

Students, faculty, and staff said they would prepare to lobby legislators to oppose the funding cut. They fear it could bring layoffs and even higher tuition increases.

"We're going to fight back," said Hochner, the Temple union leader. "I'm afraid that ultimately [the governor] wants to whittle down the state support to practically nothing. It's an extreme agenda and really should be exposed as a radical agenda."

State Education Department spokesman Tim Eller declined comment.

Temple received nearly $140 million in state funding last year, a 19 percent reduction over the prior year, and boosted tuition 10 percent.

To reduce costs this coming year, the university is offering a retirement package to senior faculty and looking at the possibility of consolidating some of its schools and increasing faculty workload.

Concerned about mounting financial strain, the state froze 5 percent of the funding in January. Depending upon what formula the state uses to achieve an overall 30 percent reduction for the state-related universities, Temple could see its state funding fall below $100 million.

Elliot Griffin, a Temple senior from Pittsburgh and member of the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students, said funding should not be cut at all.

"That's not investing in Pennsylvania's future," said Griffin, who, along with other students, staged a lobbying rally in Harrisburg last Tuesday in preparation for Corbett's budget address.

For the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which received $412.7 million this year from the state, a 20 percent cut could mean a whopping $83 million loss and return the system to 1997-98 funding levels. State universities' funding was slashed 18 percent last year, and the schools recently were asked to give back an additional 5 percent.

Pennsylvania State University received $227 million and raised tuition an average of 3.8 percent. Later last year the state decided to hold back an additional $11.4 million.

Reflecting on the possibility of a 30 percent cut, spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said: "Certainly a cut of that magnitude would have an effect on the university, but until we know what the governor says tomorrow, I don't know we can really project what kind of effect any particular thing can have."

It is unclear what requirements, if any, the Corbett administration will tie to funding for state-related universities. Last month, in the wake of the child-abuse scandal at Penn State, Corbett said that the university would have to agree to be fully subject to the state's Right to Know law if it chooses to continue to receive state money.

Conceivably, the other state-related schools would have to agree to do the same.

"They should be under the state right to know law," said Temple's Hochner. "I don't really understand why they aren't."

At Lincoln, newly appointed president Jennings said a 30 percent cut in funding would mean layoffs and another tuition increase. In-state students pay about $18,000 and out-of-state students about $23,000.

He said he hoped the state considers Lincoln apart from the other state-related schools, which have larger alumni bases and networks that could help them cover a large budget cut. Many Lincoln students are first-generation college students from single-parent homes, he noted.

"I would certainly hope that some kind of concession could be made. We are not all equals," Jennings said. "We play a unique and special role in this state."

Lincoln received about $11 million this year, minus the 5 percent midyear cut, or about $558,000.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693, or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or @ssnyderinq on Twitter.

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