Pennsylvania university heads paint bleak tuition outlook

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 22, 2012 12:43 PM
Pennsylvania university heads paint bleak tuition outlook

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The heads of Pennsylvania's four largest universities pleaded with lawmakers on Wednesday to ignore Governor Tom Corbett's proposal to cut state subsidies on higher education by 30 percent.

During budget hearings early on Wednesday, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg called Corbett's proposal "deep, dramatic and disproportionate," adding that if enacted, Pitt would have to raise tuition by $3,000 annually.

Corbett unveiled the cuts in a $27.1 billion budget proposed earlier this month. He also said he wanted to withhold 20 percent of funding from 14 other state-related universities.

The $230 million saved from higher education costs would help plug a projected $719 million deficit, he said. Such a cut would follow a 24-percent decrease in state aid this year.

Pennsylvania has until June 30 to adopt its 2012-13 budget and it is constitutionally prohibited from carrying a deficit.

In his first budget after taking office in January 2011, Corbett proposed cutting state funding to the four colleges by half, but eventually agreed with lawmakers to a 19 percent decrease.

An additional 5 percent in aid was frozen by the governor last December.

Another 30 percent drop in state aid would strip $64 million from Penn State University, and would boost annual tuition by 9.4 percent, said university President Rodney Erickson.

Penn State will take other measures to soften the blow of exorbitant tuition hikes, Erickson said, such as program cuts and leaving vacant faculty positions unfilled. But he also said the ultimate reductions will be painful because there will be less money for assistance and scholarships.

"This will fall disproportionately on lower-income students," Erickson said.

Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart calculated a $4,000 jump in tuition and Lincoln University President Robert Jennings said students would have to pay $1,350 more to attend the traditionally African-American school if the cuts go through.

Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph, a Republican from suburban Philadelphia, said that it was important to remember that the state originally wanted to chop aid in half.

"People forget quick where you started and where you ended up," he said.

But Pitt's Nordenberg said Pennsylvania's colleges and universities are facing a dire situation.

"What we're seeing is the dismantling of a long, long commitment to higher education in Pennsylvania," he said, adding that the trend is pushing Pitt and other public schools to think about turning private.

(Reporting by Mark Shade, Editing by Gary Crosse)