Accompanied by a number of university and state officials, Gov. Tom Corbett announced a plan that proposes neither cuts nor increases in funding for higher education at a Friday press conference in Harrisburg.
Corbett’s 2013-14 proposed budget, scheduled for delivery to the General Assembly on Tuesday, offers a $1.58 billion investment in higher education, according to current projections. This entails maintenance of full-funding levels for state and state-related universities, including Penn State.
Corbett’s level-funding proposal comes after two years of proposed cuts — in 2011 a 50 percent funding cut was proposed and a 30 percent cut was proposed in 2012. In 2011, that 50 percent funding cut for the 2011-12 fiscal year was decreased to a 19 percent cut by the time the full budget was voted on. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, Penn State ended up receiving level funding despite the originally proposed 30 percent cut.
The signed 2012-13 budget included a total appropriation of $227,694,000 for the university. Penn State’s exact 2013-14 appropriation has not been released and likely won’t be until the final budget is voted on by state legislature.
Forty percent of the overall state budget is dedicated to education, a core function of the government, making it the largest devoted portion, Corbett said. He further said universities, which are working in solidarity with his administration, have renewed their commitment to keep tuition as low as possible while increasing the level of education.
Despite an expected structural deficit for the start of the budget year, which entails costs outgrowing revenues, Sen. Jake Corman, appropriations chair, said the state is still going to commit to fully funding higher education “at the level we did last year.”
“The students are considered first today, and that is the way it should be,” Corman, R-Centre, said.
The governor added he appointed a commission of post-secondary education headed by CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Rob Wonderling. After spending nine months gathering information from educators, business leaders and citizens from around the state, the commission members submitted several recommendations in November. These were connected to the areas of education and training, including a call for a long-term accountability model that links any future funding increases to performance and outcome-based measures.
Corbett further noted last year’s state agreement resulted in the lowest increase in tuition in more than a decade, while Penn State saw its lowest tuition increase in nearly 40 years. Every school held down tuition costs at reasonable levels, he added. He said when the economy is moving more favorably, this commitment can be increased, “but that day is not here today.”
“We don’t have the money we had seven to eight years ago,” Corbett said.
Representatives from Penn State, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University were also in attendance, along with Corman, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and others.
Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Rob Pangborn said higher education institutions understand this is the beginning of a long process, and legislative support is required.
Asked whether the state has considered alternate sources of funding for higher education, the governor cited “limited dollars” particularly due to areas such as welfare weighing heavily on state funds.
Corbett also said he believes taxpayer dollars are used on behalf of students to keep tuition within reason.
The governor ultimately designated this mission as “the important steps we are taking to making Pennsylvania’s post-secondary education system the absolute best in the world and a system accessible to every young person in our state.”