By Stacy Brown | PA Independent
Before Gov. Tom Corbett even announced plans to reduce funding to the State System of Higher Education during his budget address last week, recent trends dictated that tuition would rise.
Tuition has risen annually during the past decade, while enrollment has increased steadily. In addition, salaries for faculty and staff members have increased modestly during the same time.
To make higher education more affordable, Corbett has created a new higher education panel to help find ways to accomplish this goal.
During the past 10 years, PASSHE’s state funding has increased five times and decreased five times, peaking in 2007-08 at $484 million. In 2011-12, the state provided $412.7 million in funding, compared with $452.7 million in 2001-02, according to PASSHE.
At PASSHE schools, tuition for a two-semester year has grown from $4,016 in 2001-2002 to $6,240 in 2011-12, a 55.4 percent increase. Year to year, the average tuition increase has been about 5.5 percent.
Currently, 118,224 students are enrolled at the PASSHE universities, compared with 98,611 in 2001-02. That year, 21.5 percent of students graduated in four years. That number has since increased to nearly 35 percent, even while the enrollment population has grown by 20 percent.
However, some say that tuition should have no correlation with state funding.
"Cuts like Corbett announced have no bearing on tuition," said Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at the Palumbo Donahue School of Business at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
"The state has no business subsidizing education, because college is a great financial deal anyway … and colleges will respond to the economy," Davies said. "The laws of the economy work that way with every industry."
One of many cuts
Corbett on Feb. 7 proposed a total of $240 million in cuts to Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
His proposal includes a 20 percent cut to the 14 state-owned universities, including Bloomsburg, West Chester, East Stroudsburg and Shippensburg.
"We have been cut year after year," said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the PASSHE, the 14 state colleges that are supported with state taxpayer funding, which is 5.1 percent of the state's general fund expenditures under Corbett's plan.
Marshall said Corbett’s proposed cut is one of several PASSHE has experienced in the past 18 months.
“If this proposal stands, we will have lost more than $170 million in state and federal education and general funding, compounded by a 50 percent reduction in our capital allocation and the loss of key funding dedicated to deferred maintenance," Marshall said.
PASSHE actually is receiving about $40 million less in state funding than it did 10 years ago, and Corbett recently asked PASSHE to return an additional $20.6 million from this year’s appropriation because of sagging state revenue, Marshall said.
Education is key to the state’s financial recovery, and this is especially true of PASSHE graduates, of which more than 80 percent stay in Pennsylvania, Guido Pichini, chairman of the PASSHE's Board of Governors, and John Cavanaugh, PASSHE chancellor, said in a joint statement Feb. 8.
Faculty and staff salaries on the rise
Salaries for faculty and staff also have increased because of the rising cost of health care, Marshall said.
Between 2000 and 2010, faculty salaries increased an average of about two percent each year. From 2000 to 2010, tuition increased 4.6 percent on average.
In 2000, the average nine-month salary for a professor in the PASSHE was $80,010. In 2010, the average nine-month salary was $96,873, a 21 percent increase.
Associate professors in 2000 made, on average, $64,245 for nine months. By 2010, the average salary had jumped to $77,313 for nine months, a 20.3 percent increase.
Panel targets financing higher education
In what was perhaps an attempt to temper the proposed reductions, Corbett announced the formation of the 29-member Higher Education Advisory Panel to study how to make higher education accessible and affordable to students and taxpayers.
Cavanaugh was appointed last week by Corbett to serve on the panel.
"We need to open the discussion about how best to finance higher education in this state," Corbett said. "We need to have a thorough, public and candid conversation about how best to deal with the spiraling costs and our own obligations."
Among the panel members are Cavanaugh; Rob Wonderling, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and a former state senator; and Donald Block, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which provides educational programs to 6,200 adults and families annually in the Pittsburgh area.
The panel is a mix of university presidents, educators, attorneys, company presidents and one Allegheny College student.
"This commission will review the structure, governance and finance of higher education in Pennsylvania to ensure that it remains affordable and accessible to all Pennsylvanians," state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis' spokesman Tim Eller said. "This commission will look at higher education in the long term."