State System of Higher Education Chancellor James H. McCormick today urged members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to support the System’s 1999-2000 appropriations request, calling it “a joint investment . . . in Pennsylvania’s future.”
The System is seeking a state appropriation of nearly $448.3 million next year to help fund the operations of the 14 state-owned universities. That amount represents an increase of $24.3 million, or about 5.5 percent, over the current funding total.
“The appropriations level we are seeking would allow us to continue our long and successful partnership with you, with our students and their families, and with the taxpayers – a joint investment, if you will, in Pennsylvania’s future,” McCormick said in remarks to the committee.
The System’s Board of Governors has taken numerous steps to control costs at the universities while ensuring the institutions continue to offer high-quality educational programs, McCormick said. While those efforts have helped keep student charges down
– tuition did not go up this year – the System also needs additional support from the state, according to the chancellor.
“The decision not to raise tuition was not an easy one to make,” he said. “Even with last year’s increase in our state appropriation, each of our campuses was required to make significant and difficult reductions in order to balance its budget.”
The Legislature a year ago supported Gov. Tom Ridge’s recommendation to increase funding to the State System by nearly 5 percent. That increase coupled with nearly $8 million in spending reductions by the universities enabled the Board to freeze tuition for the first time since 1983-84.
The tuition freeze followed on the heels of a $100 increase in 1997-98, which, at the time, was the lowest dollar increase since 1990-91 and the smallest percentage increase in more than a decade.
The governor earlier this year proposed a $10.6 million, 2.5 percent, funding increase for the State System in 1999-2000, less than half the amount requested. Even if the full request is met, a tuition increase next year would be likely.
The current tuition rate for Pennsylvania residents is $3,468 for two semesters. The average total cost of attending a State System university for a year, including tuition, required fees, room and board and the cost of books and supplies, is about $8,700.
McCormick, in his appearance before the Senate committee, highlighted several System accomplishments realized over the last year, including approval of the “Academic Passport” and the establishment of the Keystone Library Network.
The Academic Passport program essentially guarantees that any student who earns an associate degree from a community college in Pennsylvania will be admitted to a System university. Students also will be able to move more freely from one System university to another should they desire to transfer or be required to do so because of family or career circumstances.
The Keystone Library Network will bring together electronically the resources of all of the System universities’ libraries. Through an online network, a student at any of the campuses will be able to search and access the library holdings of the 13 other schools. The KLN also provides access to the electronic versions of more than 1,350 journals and to review summaries of articles printed in some 1,400 more.
Not only will the KLN make available to students a wealth of new information resources, it already has generated an actual savings to the System universities of more than $1.2 million by enabling the collaborative purchasing of online academic databases.
The System’s funding request also includes several special request items, including $1.67 million for social equity initiatives and $1.3 million to fund an initiative aimed at helping to ensure that education majors and current K-12 classroom teachers are adequately prepared and that their curricula align with Pennsylvania’s new academic standards.
Another special appropriations request seeks a total of $14 million for the Keystone Initiative for Science, Advanced Technology Education and Workforce Development. The major component of the Keystone Initiative would be the establishment of the Keystone Institute for Science and Advanced Technology, which would focus on increasing the number of students prepared for the workplace of the future by enhancing existing degree programs and developing new programs to address workforce needs in Pennsylvania.
The initiative also would provide funding for the purchase of science and technology equipment through a challenge grant program and for the full implementation of the System’s instructional technology plan.
The final item in the request would provide $433,000 for the operation of the McKeever Environmental Learning Center.
The State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, offering more than 215 undergraduate degree and more than 100 graduate degree programs. The 14 universities that comprise the System enroll a combined 95,000 students. Nearly 350,000 System alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
The state-owned 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 System also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Kittanning, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg and the University Center for Southwest Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.