Today, the state Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jake Corman, held a public hearing on the impact of state budget cuts to the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Three APSCUF members testified at today’s hearing:
- Dr. Chuck Ward, chapter president at Millersville
- Dr. Francisco Alarcón, vice president of the APSCUF-IUP chapter
- Dr. Margaret Ball of East Stroudsburg University
What was the message for the committee? That last year’s 18 percent cut to the state-owned universities’ operating budgets means a major change in the way we do business. Students are choosing not to attend college because of the price, programs are disappearing, and the long-term trend toward larger class sizes continues. Despite these challenges, faculty members at all universities across the system remain committed to the mission to provide a high-quality education to students at the lowest possible cost.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Alarcón discussed how program cuts have affected the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As many faculty members know, Indiana is a top-notch university, and it has been recognized for its academic excellence in recent years. It was recently included in Forbes magazine’s list of “America’s Top Colleges”for the quality of its faculty, retention and graduation rates, career prospects and low student debt rates. Since 1959, more than 60 faculty members have been awarded Fulbright Teacher Exchange awards for international study and research.
Faced with a $7.5 million budget shortfall, Indiana University recently laid offten non-faculty and management employees and cut 42 additional positions through attrition. IUP has also proposed eliminating 62 programs, even if they were generating revenue or have large enrollments. This comes after last summer; the PASSHE board of governors discontinued or eliminated 66 programs across the State System. Included in those were foreign languages, economics and physics programs. These cuts will only weaken the quality of education at our schools. This year, Indiana University of Pennsylvania is seeing an increased record number of enrollments, yet more and more programs are being cut.
Dr. Ward addressed Millersville’s success in graduating large percentages of its students and how recent budget cuts could imperil that success. Millersville has been recognized as a first-rate regional university, with the U.S. News recently ranking the university in its 2012 edition of “Best Colleges.”
Today policy makers, higher education organizations, and college administrators emphasize the importance of degrees. Millersville, along with Bloomsburg, Shippensburg and West Chester, boast six-year graduation rates above 60 percent. According to the June 2009 report from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research entitled “Diplomas and Dropouts,” these six-year graduation rates rival those at the majority of private colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. However, declining state appropriations have resulted in larger class sizes and fewer sections offered, which will make it more difficult for students to graduate in four years.
East Stroudsburg University
Dr. Ball talked to the senators about how class sizes have ballooned at East Stroudsburg and many other universities in the system, with disastrous consequences for students.
U.S. News recently ranked East Stroudsburg its 2012 edition of “Best Colleges.” East Stroudsburg is one of the first universities in the country to offer a computer security major. It also offers an innovative minor in Chinese. Despite the budget cuts, our students try to continuously succeed in the community and the Commonwealth. Take for example, Site Life Marketing System, a company founded by ESU graduates in 2010, which was awarded second place in the Regional Business Plan Competition in 2011.
At East Stroudsburg class sizes have increased exponentially due to the loss of state funding. In some cases, classes have increased from 40 students to 120 students. According to our recent budget survey of members, 89 percent of the university’s respondents had witnessed larger class sizes, meaning 100 to 200 students in a section. According to the budget survey, faculty across the system are being forced to change their teaching style to more lecture and multiple choice testing with less assignments distributed. Students are losing the personal interaction with their professors because of larger class sizes, and the professors cannot teach in a way that is best for the material.
For more information on the hearing, you can visit Sen. Corman’s website and Facebook page. If you’d like to watch the hearing, video will soon be available on the Senate Appropriations Committee website, and PCN will likely air the hearing. Check the PCN website for their upcoming schedule.