ShareThis Page

State university officials push for affordable education

Debra Erdley
| Monday, June 19, 2017, 6:30 p.m.

With the countdown to Pennsylvania's June 30 budget deadline ticking, faculty and administration officials with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Monday made their case for boosting college affordability to the state House Democratic Policy Committee.

Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the union that represents faculty members and coaches at the 14 state-owned universities, warned that the state could face serious long-term economic consequences for failing to support its public universities.

He said recent surveys of state support for public universities pegged Pennsylvania 47th out of 50 in terms of support per student. Resulting increases in tuition, fees and room and board have made it harder than ever for working-class families to afford college, he said.

“Pennsylvania is truly at a crossroads,” Mash said.

He said the university system— it includes California, Clarion, Indiana, Edinboro and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania — faces serious financial challenges despite a proposed 2 percent increase in state subsidies next year.

“It's a good place to start, but it keeps us at 1999 funding levels,” Mash said.

He said five universities including Cal U, Clarion, Edinboro, Cheyney and Mansfield are weighing layoffs and program eliminations, based on current funding projections.

Mark Price, a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center, told the House panel the state has dramatically reduced support for higher education as a percentage of the spending over the last 30 years.

“If we look at the state appropriation versus the (state) GDP, it is 42 percent of the level it was in 1983-94,” Price said. His group recommends raising new funds for higher education through a severance tax on natural gas, and a raise in personal income taxes on capital gains and investment income.

Lawmakers, however, have been reluctant to discuss new sources of revenue for the schools.

So the State System Board of Governors, the appointed board charged with system oversight, is exploring various options as it awaits a report from an independent consultant that will outline recommendations for future operations.

The board last spring hired the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems at a cost for $396,000 to review everything from the location and number of campuses necessary for optimal operations to programs offered. That report is due July 31.

State system spokesman Kenn Marshall said a preliminary report from the Colorado-based education think tank is expected by July 13.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer.She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or or via Twitter @deberdley_trib

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.