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Pennsylvania: Corbett plans to cut higher education funding

Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed $27.3 billion state budget would reduce state appropriation to Pennsylvania’s public universities for the second consecutive year, this time by an addition 20 to 30 percent if passed by the state’s legislature.

Corbett’s budget, proposed Feb. 7, would reduce state funding to three of the four major state-related universities. Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University would see 30 percent cuts, while members of the State System of Higher Education, which includes universities such as Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock, would see 20 percent cuts.

Duquesne spokeswoman Rose Ravasio said the University “can’t speculate” on the proposed cuts but will address them if Corbett’s budget is passed.

The proposed reductions would come one year after Corbett reduced higher education funds by 18 percent. Corbett noted that the cut would pose a small decrease in appropriation to the state’s largest universities: 1.6 percent for Penn State, 2.1 percent for Pitt, 1.8 percent for Temple and 3.8 percent for the 13 State System of Higher Education universities.

But Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said that line of thinking penalizes a university such as Pitt, which issues extensive contributions to the local economy.

“That form of calculation essentially imposes a mathematical penalty on a research university like Pitt for importing $800 million of research funding into the local economy,” Nordenberg said in a Feb. 7 statement. “It may also reflect a fundamental misconception about such funds — which can only be spent on the projects for which they were awarded and are not a source of revenue that can be used for more general purposes or to reduce tuition levels.”

Pitt was forced to raise its tuition by 8.5 percent this academic year due to last year’s cuts, and Nordenberg said the University’s tuition may face another extensive hike.

“Diminished levels of state support, of course, stand as a primary contributor to rising public university tuition and its impact on access and affordability,” he said in the statement. “Virtually everyone who has seriously examined these issues has fairly called for colleges and universities to do even more to control their costs but also has recognized that the key culprit is reduced state funding.”

In a prepared statement, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he and other Penn State officials plan to meet with the state’s legislature to make them aware of the impact the cuts will have on the Penn State community.

“In the months ahead, we’ll have an opportunity to make the legislature aware of the likely impacts of these cuts for Penn State programs and how they will affect students and their families,” Erickson said in the Feb. 7 statement. “We fully appreciate the financial pressure on the Commonwealth in identifying resources, and trust the state understands the consequences of continuing cuts of this magnitude.”

The cut would reduce Penn State’s state support by $64 million from $214 million to $150 million. Erickson said the University will attempt to avoid allowing the cut to pose any negative effects on its programs.

“We will do everything possible to not let state funding cuts impose an undue hardship on Penn State families,” Erickson said. “We will do everything we can to continue to cut costs and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of delivering our broad range of instructional programs, the core of what makes Penn State a great academic institution.”

While Penn State and Pitt decide how to cope with the reduction in their state appropriations, Temple President Ann Weaver Hart said her University, by reducing its operating budget by more than $76 million in the last three years, has taken preemptive measures to ensure it will not be heavily impacted.

“We understand that the Commonwealth is facing difficult budget decisions,” Hart said in a public video response to Corbett’s proposal. “As the state has struggled through a challenging economy, Temple has responded by cutting millions from its operating budget, streamlining processes, eliminating redundancies and reducing administrative staff.”

But Temple will not be able to completely avoid repercussions stemming from the cuts, Hart said. “The Governor’s plan, however, is not one that can be met by cutting costs,” she said. “If approved by the General Assembly, this reduction in support will be felt by every student, parent and employee.”

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