APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash’s comments as prepared:
Chairwoman Shapira, Governors, and Chancellor Brogan,
We, like many others in this room and in the Commonwealth, anxiously awaited the NCHEMS presentation that was delivered yesterday, and we are looking forward to greater detail in the upcoming report next Friday. We are still processing all that was in that presentation, but when it comes down to the suggestion that we all need to pull together, we are certainly willing to pick up an oar and do our part.
With that in mind, we would like to suggest that we meet at the negotiations table prior to the expiration of our existing contract to see what we may do with respect to one of NCHEMS’ specific recommendations. That is, I give my commitment to you right now to approach the APSCUF leadership to suggest that we immediately try to work on an early and phased retirement proposal that I hope can lead to a side letter. I believe there are things that can be done within the existing law. I hope that the System leadership will join us in this effort so that we can model the new cooperative spirit that Mr. Jones talked about yesterday. I hope, too, that cooperation will carry over to our general negotiations.
With that aside, I believe that the aspect of the report that most stood out yesterday was Mr. Jones’ comment that there was no “silver bullet.” I strongly disagree. One cannot look at the numbers, the 2012 Maguire report, and the recent reports by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and not be struck by the fact that Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation in per-student funding of public higher education.
With all due respect to the comments yesterday, a 3.5 percent increase in tuition and corresponding fees — plus whatever increases are passed on campus — does make a difference to the lives of working families. It is not an increase in isolation: It is an increase that builds on consecutive increases. It is an increase that must be understood in the context of increased room-and-board fees.
The simple fact is that when the president of a respected private university can get on the radio and say that it is cheaper to attend that university than it is to attend the nearby State System university, there is a real problem.
We have hit the point where every attempt to save money actually winds up hurting our universities and our students. I agree with Gov. Muller 100 percent. We cannot balance the books off the back of System employees. And we certainly cannot balance the books off the backs of our students and our families.
Our Commonwealth — not our universities — are at a crossroads. Too many still have an anachronistic perspective on what it means to pay for college. They imagine that it is still akin to 1995. It is not even close. As I have said here before, total college costs have skyrocketed.
It is not acceptable that students should have to make the awful choice to indebt themselves for a decade or two, or choose between food and books, or choose to abandon the American Dream completely because they cannot afford the cost.
I wish some of you could experience what my colleagues experience or what our SCUPA colleagues experience when they must look into the eyes of students who say that they just cannot afford to attend college any longer.
It is equally unacceptable to shut down academic opportunities for students and services for students and try to sell them on the idea that this will continue to provide a quality education.
There is, in fact, a “silver bullet.” That lies in adequately making the very real case to all of the Commonwealth’s policymakers that the situation is intolerable. We, like everyone else, do appreciate the increase in a difficult budget year. But it will be a difficult budget year for tens of thousands of students and their families that will have to pay for college this fall.
Our policymakers must come up with solutions that provide relief for Pennsylvania’s working class. The future of every citizen of the Commonwealth is at risk until they do.
To our students and to families out there I will say this: Despite some of the rhetoric you may hear, the faculty and coaches at your universities have given of their time, money, and energy in pursuit of additional funding.
Our intent is to double down to fight for you to make college more affordable. I certainly hope that everyone involved in this System can make that commitment.
I was actually wrong. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s just the right thing to do.
Thank you for your time.