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On Monday, March 5, the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), held a budget hearing with the State System of Higher Education. Joining Chancellor John Cavanaugh on the panel was Board of Governors chair Guido Pichini, Kutztown President Javier Cevallos and Clarion student Joanna Catalano. Chairman Pichini opened with a statement that, despite reports in various western Pennsylvania newspapers, the board had NOT discussed closing campuses.  Over the course of the hearing both he and Cavanaugh emphasized the importance of the universities to their communities and to students. Pichini stressed the difficulty of closing a campus, indicating it would take years to fulfill the obligation the system had made to incoming students. He specifically cited the value of Mansfield and Clarion, assuring there was no plan to close either university.

The committee was interested in how the proposed cuts would impact student tuition. Chancellor Cavanaugh stated that last year’s 7.5 percent tuition increase was a result of budget cuts, but that the board has a long tradition of not balancing PASSHE’s budget on the backs of the students. Although the chancellor did not provide a direct dollar-for-dollar comparison, at the Senate Appropriations hearing in February, he indicated that it would take a 13 percent increase in tuition to fill the budget gap created by the loss of state funding.

The chancellor indicated the burden of the state system’s lowest-in-the-Commonwealth costs by iterating that the average PASSHE graduate owes $23,000 in student loan debt. He also noted that the governor has proposed another cut to PHEAA, following a decrease in last June’s budget and a funding freeze in January.

Dr. Cevallos talked about the effects of budget cuts at Kutztown University. Kutztown was already struggling with financial difficulties prior to June’s reduction and had a two-year process of cuts at the university. Kutztown has already laid off faculty and staff, cut programs, including French and Nursing and eliminated the university’s diversity office.

In response to questions about the rapid growth in class size at East Stroudsburg, the Chancellor indicated that increasing class size is one way universities have dealt with the budget cuts, and that he hoped the faculty would take opportunities to learn new techniques and delivery methods in order to teach large classes.

When asked what the average salary and workload was for full-time faculty, Dr. Cavanaugh responded that the average full professor makes $104,000. (Note: the figure cited is for a full professor at the top of the pay scale; the average full-time professor actually makes about $70,000).

Dr. Cavanaugh was given the opportunity to talk briefly about negotiations. A member of the Appropriations Committee noted that PASSHE’s Moody bond rating was lowered this year, in part due to not having contracts with its two largest unions. The chancellor said that PASSHE and APSCUF had been meeting, but state law didn’t allow PASSHE to impose a contract. The representative stated that he hopes there is a contract before the budget is completed, and the chancellor responded “Me, too.”

Appropriations Chair Bill Adolph finished the hearing by expressing his support for the State System. He reminded everyone that last year the Governor proposed a massive cut to higher education and the House used the process to reduce the severity of that cut. He indicated they would work to do the same this year.

If you missed the hearing and would like to watch online, the House Republicans have posted video of the hearing.