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State-owned schools seek 4% rise in funds

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 11:52 p.m.

Pennsylvania's state-owned universities are seeking a 4 percent budget increase for 2014-15, to end four years of austerity budgets.

The board that oversees the 14-member State System of Higher Education system on Thursday agreed to ask for an extra $16.5 million in state subsidies, as well as a special onetime allocation of $18 million for new programs and the expansion of others.

“We are retooling our universities to meet changing student demographics (and) new workforce demands,” said Guido M. Pichini, board chairman.

Four years ago, lawmakers slashed subsidies to the schools by 18 percent and followed up with three more years of no increases.

State Rep. Jim Christiana, chairman of the state House Subcommittee on Higher Education, said he's sympathetic to the system's needs.

“We're all hoping that the economy will keep growing and we will be able to make increased investments in higher education. Their request for an increase in operating funds is reasonable,” said Christiana, a Beaver County Republican.

He was not as optimistic about the request for the additional $18 million the universities say they need to realign with a changing economy.

“With new programs, it's always a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. They want to start a program, and we want to see results,” Christiana said.

The state system, which includes Indiana, Clarion, Slippery Rock, California and Edinboro universities in Western Pennsylvania, has an enrollment of about 112,000 students.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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