By Dr. Mark Cloud, Lock Haven University
Everyone should be appalled and shocked at Gov. Tom Corbett’s treatment of public higher education. He has proposed a 54 percent cut in funding for the state-owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ($270 million cut), which includes Lock Haven University. The combination of the G.I. bill and state support of public higher education over the past 60 years has allowed many of us and our parents the opportunity for more advanced knowledge and skills at affordable state-owned universities that otherwise would have been out of our reach.
There has been a well-documented decline in state support of public higher education over the last 30 years. In the past five years alone, Pennsylvania has nearly led the nation in that decline of support of public higher educational appropriations per student (14.3 percent).
Despite that recent pattern of less state support, LHU and the rest of the state-owned universities have held annual tuition increases below the rate of inflation in four of the last six years.
That feat has been accomplished through very serious cutbacks in faculty, staff and maintenance at LHU.
This is in contrast to the claims recently suggested in Harlan Berger’s column in which he lumped LHU along with Penn State and the other state-related institutions.
Indeed as he claimed, Penn State has a $1.5 billion dollar endowment and has raised tuition well beyond the rate of inflation many years in row. However, neither of those facts represents the situation at LHU.
Furthermore, Harlan’s characterization of faculty getting big bucks, consulting on the side and teaching few undergraduates is a fantasy description of faculty at state-owned universities like LHU. Our faculty are mentoring and teaching a record number of undergraduate students with the largest class sizes and workloads in our university’s history. Our average salaries are now below our state peers.
The state-owned university system has been a responsible steward of the appropriations obtained. Current open record laws assure we are transparent in every dollar we spend. In just the past 10 years, the system has saved $200 million through efficiency gains.
I cannot speak for Penn State and the other state-related schools because their processes and finances are not transparent by law and they are not guided by a state appointed Board of Governors. Unlike LHU, they can spend as they wish and raise tuition as they please.
The proposed 54 percent cut in state funding for LHU amounts to a $12 million gap next year. LHU obtains its revenue almost entirely from two sources: tuition/fees and state appropriations. To makeup that shortfall in revenue, it would require a whopping 32 percent increase in tuition. And the governor said his budget would have no new taxes – tell that to LHU students and their families. That is an outcome that everyone at LHU wants to avoid.
If the cut is enacted, its effects will trickle down to local merchants and businesses. The size of the LHU cut in revenue is huge (nearly five times what Keystone Central School District anticipates if the proposed cuts in basic education are enacted). Our students will have less disposable income. There would be fewer LHU employees to live and spend in the area. Twelve million dollars will be taken out of our local economy.
Beware that these shortsighted budget cuts in higher education could threaten our state’s future prosperity as businesses and families leave the state in search of reasonably priced public higher education. A key principle of economic growth-states with a more educated workforce enjoy stronger growth.
Businesses will not want to locate in a state where public higher education is the most expensive in the WHOLE nation. If Corbett’s proposed state system budget is enacted, Pennsylvania will be ranked 50th in the nation in the dollars spent per student in public higher education. That is the path our new governor has seemingly cast for our citizens.
We don’t believe this has to be the outcome. There are better solutions for meeting our state’s immediate revenue shortfall and prevent the decimation of public higher education.
Gov. Corbett remarked, “If government is here to share the taxpayer’s wealth then everyone needs to share in the sacrifice.”
Apparently, he did not mean to include Marcellus Shale gas drillers who earn hundreds of millions of dollars without paying any dedicated Pennsylvania tax.
Fourteen of the top 15 gas-drilling states impose a levy on gas extraction. Texans tax their gas drillers and use the funds for public education.
Why should multi-state gas drilling corporations be exempted from sharing in the sacrifice? Perhaps it is because candidate and now Gov. Corbett received $835,720 from oil-and-natural gas interests to his campaign.
Pennsylvania polls show 60 percent support taxing gas extraction at a rate similar to other energy-producing states like West Virginia. That would generate $200 million next year and grow to $400 million per year as production increases.
A second source of revenue enhancement is addressing the fact that 70 percent of corporations in Pennsylvania pay NO state income taxes at all! The solution is closing corporate tax loopholes, as has been done by the majority of states who tax corporate income (Wisconsin most recently). The companies most affected by the change would be multi-state corporations. Small companies operating in Pennsylvania would be unaffected. Our state Department of Revenue estimates that closing these loopholes would generate $616 million per year.
I hope you will join me in fighting against these cuts to our state-owned universities and support the proposed solutions that truly match our governor’s pledge for shared sacrifice. Multi-state corporations should not be exempt from that sacrifice. Our current and future students deserve to have a similar affordable access to higher education those generations before have enjoyed.
Dr. Mark Cloud is a professor of psychology at Lock Haven University and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty union at LHU. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.