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Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni visit Capitol seeking increased investment in State System universities

Annual advocacy effort kicks off with students, graduates meeting with legislators to share their success stories

Contact: Kenn Marshall, (717) 720-4054 or (717) 329-0809
​Harrisburg – Students, faculty, alumni and other supporters of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education visited the offices of all 253 state legislators today to share their personal success stories and encourage increased investment in the 14 state-owned universities. The delegation then gathered in the Capitol’s main rotunda to formally kick off for the State System’s annual advocacy efforts.
The State System universities “are preparing the next generation of Pennsylvania leaders in business, education, health, the arts and beyond,” Whitney said as she addressed the crowd attending the “Prepared4PA” advocacy event in the rotunda. (Follow the campaign in social media at #Prepared4PA.)
The event in the Rotunda followed the State System’s separate appearances before the state House and Senate appropriations committees held over the last two days, during which Interim Chancellor Karen M. Whitney, Shippensburg University President Laurie A. Carter and Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Government Association President Brian Swatt discussed the System’s annual appropriations request.
“Investment in the 14 State System universities is an investment in the success of every Pennsylvanian,” Whitney continued. “And we are working hard to make sure we deliver a real return on that investment, now and into the future. Our future – your future, the future of our students – depends on our longstanding partnership with the Commonwealth, and the continued investment in our universities.”
To prepare for the future, the State System is undertaking a system redesign process to ensure it is more student-focused and less bureaucratic. The System Redesign is being guided by three strategic priorities centered on student success, university strengths and transformed governance.
Student leaders from Indiana and Kutztown Universities of Pennsylvania also addressed the audience gathered in the rotunda.
“The education and opportunities we receive at a State System university are unique and invaluable,” Swatt told the audience. “I can say for certain that the State System, and specifically IUP, have prepared me for my future; they have prepared me to succeed.”
As a first-generation college student, Swatt said, “affordability was at the forefront of my college selection process. What was also important to me is that I found a school with a high-quality education and opportunities available for me to succeed. This led me to IUP, and I can say that enrolling in IUP, in a State System institution, was the best decision of my life.”
“I also am a first-generation college student who understood what ‘affordable’ truly meant when looking for a university to attend, and that was Kutztown; that was the State System,” said Molly Gallagher, president of the Student Government Association at Kutztown and one of three students serving on the State System’s Board of Governors. “The education I am receiving both inside and outside the classroom has been incredible. That’s what these universities are about; that’s why we’re all here today.
“For us to be able to continue to succeed as students, we need the state to continue to invest in us, and in our universities. It is an investment that really does benefit everyone who lives in Pennsylvania, not just us individually. Collectively, we are Pennsylvania’s future.”
Several State System university alumni also participated in the advocacy event.
“Shippensburg University is an important part of my life,” said alumnus Matthew Steck, now a partner with the Harrisburg-based governmental affairs firm, Greenlee Partners. “There is no doubt the experience I had there prepared me for my future. It prepared me for success in my life, and in my career.
“Like so many of my former classmates, I chose to attend Shippensburg for two very important reasons: its affordability, and the opportunity it offered to receive a high-quality education that would prepare me to achieve my career goals. It prepared me in so many ways. I am successful today because of what I learned at Shippensburg.”
Shippensburg University President Carter shared her dual experiences within the State System, which began when she enrolled first as a student at Clarion University.
“When I set out on my academic journey at Clarion, I didn’t know exactly where it would take me, but I knew it would give me opportunities,” said Carter, who returned to the State System last year when she was selected Shippensburg president.
“Coming to Ship was like coming home,” she said. “As president of Shippensburg, I am leading students who were like me – first-generation students who are hungry for education and all of the possibilities that go along with that education. I am giving back to the system that gave me the confidence and skills to have a career that has enabled me to travel the globe, to give back to the community and to serve humanity.”
Michele Papakie, an alumna of both Indiana and California Universities of Pennsylvania, and now a faculty member at IUP, talked about how her education prepared her personal and career success.
“Because my undergraduate and master’s degrees were so valuable to me, I enjoyed a prosperous and lucrative, 20-plus-year career in journalism and public relations,” Papakie said. “I was a freelance writer; worked for a strategic planning company; and did public relations for a school district, the Pittsburgh Police Department and a university. Now, I’m living the dream – teaching.”
Papakie is now chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations, from which she earned her undergraduate degree. She also is a lieutenant colonel in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, where her service has included a six-month tour in Afghanistan in support of Operating Enduring Freedom.
“I am a proud product of the State System; and today, I work to produce future proud products of the State System. I can see things from many different perspectives; and, let me tell you, I like what I see.”
The State System is seeking a 2018-19 state appropriation of $526.2 million, an increase of $73 million over the current year’s funding level. The increased funding is needed primarily to meet increases in both employee salaries and benefits that are part of various labor agreements and higher pension contributions mandated by the state.
The State System’s annual appropriation is included as part of the state budget. Gov. Wolf has recommended a $15 million increase for the System next year. The new budget is required to be approved by June 30, to take effect July 1.
Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, enrolling more than 100,000 degree-seeking students and thousands more in certificate and other career-development programs. Collectively, the 14 universities that comprise the State System offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas. Nearly 520,000 State System university alumni live in Pennsylvania.
The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. The universities also operate branch campuses in Oil City (Clarion), Freeport and Punxsutawney (IUP), and Clearfield (Lock Haven), and offer classes and programs at several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg and in Center City in Philadelphia.