Corbett proposes more cuts to higher education

Published by adviser, Author: Will Deshong - Reporter, Date: February 10, 2012
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Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would reduce funding to the 14 state-owned universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education by 20 percent, totaling $82.5 million.

The Republican governor is seeking $1.4 billion in cuts across all levels of higher education in his $27.14 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year beginning in July.

In addition to cuts to PASSHE schools, the state-related universities of Penn State, Pitt, and Temple would take on $147.4 million in total cuts, while funding for community colleges across the state would be cut $8.8 million, or roughly 4 percent.

Corbett also proposed to cut 6.4 percent of financial aid for college students through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

Corbett, who called the cuts difficult but necessary, is being greeted with strong opposition from university administrators, officials, and faculty members who fear what even more drastic cuts could do to higher education.

“It’s too early to predict what type of impacts the cuts could have,” Kenn Marshall, a spokesperson for PASSHE, said. “But when you combine $90 million in reductions, a loss of $170 million in general funding over the past two years, losing half of our capital allocation funds and $7 million in deferred maintenance—all that combined leaves a significant impact on universities and students.”

The proposal is coming after Corbett had already successfully cut funding to PASSHE schools by 18 percent this year, although his proposed budget a year ago called for over a 50 percent reduction in funding.

“The 18 percent reduction was the largest single year reduction ever,” Marshall said. “In fact there have been very few years where we didn’t see at least a slight increase in funding. We’ve never had a cut the magnitude of last year. Never anything close.”

But now it seems the state’s higher education programs could face the same dilemma all over again, as Corbett’s proposal calls for an even larger cut than what was passed this year.

It’s a proposal that Jace Condravy, the Slippery Rock University president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said would diminish the quality of education at SRU.

“We believe they will hurt an already financially beleaguered student body,” Condravy said of the governor’s proposed cuts. “Revenue to run universities comes from two places—tuition and state support.”

“When state support goes down, students can count on tuition going up. Or they can count on larger classes, fewer programs, less frequently offered courses, more temporary faculty in the classes, a campus that is not maintained.  In other words, students can expect the quality of their education to decline.”

Guido Pichini, chair of PASSHE’s Board of Governors, and PASSHE Chancellor John C. Cavanaugh released a joint statement on Tuesday in response to Corbett’s proposal.

“We fully recognize the financial challenges facing the commonwealth,” Pichini and Cavanaugh said in the statement. “Governor Corbett was right in saying that education is a key to the state’s financial recovery. That is especially true of our graduates, over 80 percent of whom stay in Pennsylvania for their careers and as community and civic leaders.”

“However, our joint goals are at risk as a result of the budget blueprint for the commonwealth presented today, which provides only $2 million more than the system received 24 years ago in 1988-89. During that period we have added 23,000 students.”

Even with financial problems facing the state, it’s an unwarranted burden placed on higher education, as Pichini and Cavanaugh described in their statement.

“We do our part,” the PASSHE leaders said. “We have reduced our operating costs by more than $230 million during the past decade and will continue to seek additional efficiencies through collaboration.”

“Since 2010, we have over 900 current vacancies and/or eliminated positions throughout the system. We continue to review our academic offerings; we have eliminated or put into moratorium hundreds of programs.”

Reduced operating costs and vacant and eliminated positions has been a cause for concern between PASSHE and APSCUF, and more budget cuts could only further strain relations between the two sides as they negotiate various issues, most notably healthcare

“We’ll continue negotiating with faculty and coaches to hopefully reach the same cooporation we have with other unions,” Marshall said. “But everyone is well aware of the funding situation.”

But Condravy sees a shared opposition to the budget cuts as something that could bring the two sides together.

“We assert that we are on the same side in issues like these but come at solving the problem from different perspectives,” Condravy said. “The threat to the continued good health of our institutions could be an opportunity to collaborate and work together on behalf of students and quality education.”

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