After Gov. Tom Corbett released his first state budget proposal, Penn State is preparing to pull out all the stops to battle a 50-percent state appropriations cut to prevent significantly higher tuition, employee layoffs and the closing of commonwealth campuses.
The governor’s proposal, in an effort to bridge a $4 billion budget deficit, would cut 52.4 percent or $182 million from Penn State’s appropriations. On the whole, the governor proposed cutting more than $625 million from the state’s higher education system.
“The system in which you have flourished is in trouble,” Corbett said of higher education in his budget address last Tuesday. “We cannot save it by individual efforts. The sacrifice must be collective, as will be the ultimate rewards.”
State appropriations represent nearly 8 percent of the university’s total operating budget, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. Tuition and fees represent 34.2 percent of the total operating budget, Powers said.
“The appropriation is mostly used to offset the cost of education for Pennsylvania residents, so it will directly impact in-state tuition,” Powers said.
Powers said the university is unsure how much the proposed budget will affect tuition rates because, unlike previous years, the university was privy to no information concerning the governor’s proposal prior to its release.
“This time we received absolutely no warning, and while we were, of course, planning to do our part to help the state dig out of its $4 billion deficit, this was totally out of anyone’s imagination,” Powers said. “We could not have imagined a 50 percent cut.”
In a press conference last Wednesday, Penn State President Graham Spanier said the budget proposal would “force the university to put everything on the table.”
While tuition increases are likely, Powers said the university does not plan to place the burden of these possible budget cuts entirely on students and their families. The cuts in funding could result in the university laying off employees and reconsidering future projects, Powers said.
Spanier said the closing of certain commonwealth campuses is a “distinct possibility” to address the loss in funds.
Powers said the appropriations cuts would also cause a loss of nearly $30 million to the College of Agricultural Sciences and $13 million to the Hershey Medical Center.
While the governor’s proposal would have a significant effect on tuition, it is only the beginning of the budget process.
The next step for the university will take place on Wednesday, when Spanier will go before the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee to request more funding, Powers said.
The hearing will likely involve Spanier giving a brief introduction and taking questions from committee members concerning Penn State’s necessity for increased appropriations.
Spanier could have an ally in the appropriations committee, as state Sen. Jake Corman, the chairman of the committee, disagrees with Corbett’s decision to place large cuts on higher education.
Corman, R-Centre, said he did not believe the cuts to higher education funding represented a fair share of the burden of balancing the budget. While basic education has seen increases in funding over the past several years, Corman said higher education did not see the “largess” of the Rendell era.
“This is just the beginning and we’ll go through the process and see what we can do to restore some of that funding,” Corman said. “There will be significant changes. Every budget has changes. There will be a lot that goes on between now and the time to pass the budget.”
Corman isn’t the only state legislator working to return some of the Penn State’s appropriations cut by Corbett’s proposal.
Tor Michaels, chief of staff for state Rep. Scott Conklin, said Conklin supports the students in this issue, and added it’s important that Penn State students get energized about combating these proposed cuts.
“It’s going to be very important that the Penn State nation contact their representatives and let them know how disappointed they are,” Michaels said. “It’s going to take the people of Pennsylvania saying ‘Look, we would like to see this figure increased and we believe that higher education is important here.’ ”
Conklin, D-Centre, is a part of an effort to fight against Corbett’s cuts to higher education, according to a press release from state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.
According to the press release, Frankel, Conklin and several other legislators created the “Pennsylvania College Coalition,” an online “interactive tool” to “help Pennsylvanians stay informed about the higher education budget.”
Roger Williams, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, sent a letter to Penn State alumni asking them to contact their legislators to ask them to “do everything they can to restore funding” for the university.
“The budget proposal has the potential to change the face of Penn State as you know it,” Williams said. “When former Gov. Ed Rendell tried to cut Penn State’s funding last year, arguing that Penn State was not a public institution, Penn State alumni rallied to support Penn State. And their voices made a big difference.”
While the proposed cuts to Penn State’s appropriations have produced responses from those concerned with the university, the three other state-related universities — Lincoln University, Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh — are facing similar cuts under Corbett’s budget.
Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said the loss of state funds could have a “crushing impact” on working families in Pennsylvania.
“The commonwealth made a commitment to its citizens to provide an affordable college education to help them achieve the American dream,” Hicks said. “Our universities have kept tuition extremely affordable largely by cutting back to the essentials. There just isn’t room to cut more.”
— Courtney Warner contributed to this report.