Today’s blog comes from Dr. Rob McKenzie, Professor of Communication Studies at East Stroudsburg University. In addition to being a proud PASSHE professor, he’s also a State System graduate, with a bachelor’s from Millersville University. Dr. McKenzie is a columnist for the Pocono Record and advisor to WESS-FM.
By definition, a public education is public because it affects everyone: babies, children, teens, adults and seniors. Because Pennsylvania’s public state university system is one of the finest in the country and one of the most accessible to students of all backgrounds, it is the 10th largest in the country and an impressive 43rd largest in the world, with 120,000 students.
Pennsylvania’s public universities are not just for students with money or those with parents who are college graduates able to give their kids firsthand guidance about college. By design, Pennsylvania’s public universities are also for first-generation college students, for those who come from low-income households, for those who didn’t do that well in high school, and for others with imperfect backgrounds. Without public universities, many of these students would face bleaker prospects for obtaining meaningful jobs with salaries that contribute substantially to state revenues.
Yet based on the premise that state revenues are down this year, Gov. Tom Corbett recently proposed to cut 20 percent from state funding for public education, on top of last year’s 18 percent cut and this year’s 5 percent additional freeze. That would total a 43 percent funding cut to public education in two years, and will drop an interminable depth charge into the throat of our state’s prized university system — resulting in much higher tuition costs and much larger but much less effective class sizes.
Because the Governor received his higher education exclusively at expensive, private, and religiously-affiliated universities — Lebanon Valley College, and then St. Mary’s University in Texas — perhaps he does not have a balanced-enough perspective on how critical the 14 affordable, public, and secular state universities are to Pennsylvania’s economy.
According to a 2006 study, PA’s public universities contribute almost $4.5 billion to the Pennsylvania economy every year, in part because more than 500,000 alumni continue to live in the state. Annually, each individual university contributes an average of $313 million to the state’s economy. East Stroudsburg University contributes almost $110 million just to Monroe County.
The history of the public’s system of higher education goes back to the Normal School Act of 1857, later revised by a 1982 Act that tied existing colleges into a statewide university system called PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education).
Gov. Corbett is the top Chief Executive of the State. Prudent chief executives do not suddenly cut budgets in half that fund vibrant institutions carefully and methodically grown over the course of 155 years to cultivate a solid economic future for the entire population. Yes, reducing a budget because of hard economic times is often necessary. However, cutting the state’s budget for the PASSHE public universities this drastically will recklessly harm the legacy of a public educational system so respected worldwide for its vital contribution to educating all kinds of students. Most astonishing of all, though, is that a budget cut of this magnitude will make it far less likely for Pennsylvania to increase the lagging revenues that are the very reasoning behind proposing these over-the-top funding cuts.