The Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education today voted to request $505.8 million in state funding next year as part of a plan that would significantly increase the amount of financial aid available to students from low- and middle-income families.
Harrisburg – The Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education today voted to request $505.8 million in state funding next year as part of a plan that would significantly increase the amount of financial aid available to students from low- and middle-income families.
“This request sends the clear message that we cannot continue to raise tuition without considering the impact on our students, many of whom are at risk of being priced out of a college degree,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira. “We continue to transform how we do business across the System so that we can keep tuition affordable, maximize the state’s investment and create access to opportunity for Pennsylvania students.”
The $37.7 million increase in state funding also would reduce the need for the universities to make further cuts in their operations and allow them to invest more in innovative academic programs and student retention efforts—investments that are vital to long-range success. The 14 universities combined have eliminated nearly $400 million from their base budgets since 2000-01 through aggressive management of their physical, financial and human resources.
The focus on keeping the cost of higher education affordable to all students is essential to Pennsylvania’s future, added State System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein.
“As Pennsylvania’s public universities, it is our responsibility to ensure that all students—of every background—can affordably get the education they need to support themselves and their families; to participate in the 21st century economy; and to contribute to their communities in a meaningful way,” Greenstein said. “We provide higher education to more Pennsylvania students than anyone else, but many of those students are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the opportunity our universities provide. We must take the steps necessary to fulfill our mission to both our students and the Commonwealth.”
Approval of the appropriations request is the beginning of the annual budget process. The request is submitted first to the governor’s budget office, which considers it as part of the state’s overall general fund budget, which must be approved by June 30 each year.
The State System will receive $468.1 million in state funding this year. The System’s funding has been increased in each of the last four years, by a combined total of $55.4 million. The increases followed six straight years of stagnant or reduced state funding, including a $90 million reduction in 2011-12. The increase requested for next year would return the funding level to approximately where it was in 2010-11.
The additional funding would help cover anticipated mandatory cost increases, including in employee salaries and wages, healthcare and pension obligations.
Although the Board won’t vote on 2019-20 tuition rates until the spring, the plan as proposed anticipates a 3 percent increase to fully fund the System’s budget. As much as three-fourths of the revenue generated by the tuition increase would be used to provide an additional $14 million in financial aid – a 24 percent increase – to students from low- and middle-income families, helping to improve affordability.
Tuition at the State System universities is the lowest among nearly all four-year colleges and universities in the state; however, recent data on enrollments suggest that the System is at or near the limit on what low- and middle-income Pennsylvania students whom the universities have historically served can afford. Educating those students is essential if the state is to meet its projected workforce needs in the future. Meanwhile, efforts to retain students through to graduation have been hampered by the cutbacks that universities have had to make in recent years, including in student support services.
The System has taken numerous steps in recent years to control its costs in order to keep tuition affordable. The universities currently employ about 1,100 fewer employees than they did in fall 2009, resulting from a combination of retirements, voluntary separations and furloughs. They also have suspended or eliminated more than 400 academic programs over that same time.
Despite the reductions, the System continues to be the largest degree producer in the state, graduating almost 25,000 students in 2017-18. The majority of System university graduates remain in Pennsylvania after earning their degrees, filling jobs in the state’s highest demand areas for skilled workers—business, healthcare, education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)—and the cost of their education is returned in the form of salaries that are significantly higher on average than those available to people with only a high school diploma or some college but no college degree.