With Pa. Senate Bill 1275 in discussion, Slippery Rock University faculty share insight on how the bill could affect the university. The bill would allow Pa State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities to separate from the state system and become state-related institutions if they are able to prove that they can support themselves.
In a March 11 press release, supporting senators Robert Tomlinson and Andy Dinniman proposed the bill in order to give universities the option to become financially and educationally independent. Tomlinson stated the current structure of the state system is not beneficial and that if nothing is done, some universities could become bankrupt.
SRU Director of Public Relations Rita Abent explained that the discussion about the bill is ongoing.
“The devil is always in the details,” Abent said. “So until the university, the [state] system, and the Council of Trustees have had enough time to evaluate the details, we really don’t have any comment on it.”
Although SRU administration has yet to decide if they support the bill, SRU chapter of Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) president Dr. Patrick Burkhart said that he found the bill to be unfortunate.
“Abraham Lincoln quoted the Bible when he said ‘a house divided cannot stand,’ and I find that measure to be divisive,” Burkhart said. “It appears to have intent to separate wealthier institutions from those of more meager financial needs and in that manner can further sap the strength of the state system. The ability to succeed is in conflict with the solidarity that I would prefer PASSHE embrace.”
Aside from the unity of the state system, Burkhart also expressed concern in universities needing to raise tuition.
“[The bill] is movement in the spirit of privatization,” Burkhart explained “I think that we would find that private schools are often several times more expensive than public schools, and therefore an outcome of succession would be an increase in the expense of education and therefore a diminished opportunity for students to access it, particularly citizens of lower financial means.”
On an APSCUF press release it was predicted that a $6,622 annual tuition in PASSHE universities could increase to an excess of $17,000.
SRU Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration Molly Mercer stated that it would be impossible to give a prediction about how tuition would change if SRU were to separate from PASSHE.
Mercer explained that PASSHE funds universities in a few different ways. SRU is allocated approximately $32.6 million or 28 percent of the university’s Education and General Budget which pays for faculty salaries, benefits, non-personal expenses, among other things.
Through PASSHE, SRU also receives a share of a Realty Transfer Tax allocation from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation fund which provides from $750,000 to $1 million dollars annually towards deferred maintenance expenses.
Another contribution that PASSHE contributes is $65 million in Commonwealth capital funding annually that is split up among the PASSHE universities to pay for the replacement or renovations of buildings and projects approved by the Board of Governors.
There has been some concern about if APSCUF would still be able to function if some universities separated from PASSHE. Burkhart responded to those concerns.
“At a minimum, it would require a change in by-laws, but it would open the door perhaps to those faculty losing their representation,” Burkhart said. “The future in that regard is uncertain, but I can could understand the apprehension that it might go that way.”
The bill has not been yet been passed and is still being discussed. More information will be released as it becomes available.