On Monday, March 4, Peter Garland, Acting Chancellor of the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), testified before the House Appropriations Committee about PASSHE’s budgetary needs. On Tuesday he offered similar testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. While there was a wide range of topics discussed at the two hearings, many of the questions from legislators focused on how PASSHE was able to the meet the needs of the universities with a limited budget.
In early February, Governor Corbett announced that the state’s higher education institutions, including the state-related institutions, PASSHE universities, and community colleges, would receive flat funding in exchange for keeping tuition increases “as low as possible.” Flat funding this year still means that the State System has experienced a loss of $90 million since the governor took office.
At the House hearing, several legislators asked about the impact of the declining state appropriations on the fourteen state-owned universities and whether funding from the state appropriation was adequate to meet the System’s needs. Garland said that the universities could do more if the dollars were available, but that PASSHE provides a “decent level of quality.”
In reality, the loss of the state appropriation has a direct impact on the level of educational quality our universities provide to students because faculty, students, and the universities have to do more with less. At the House hearing Garland discussed the cost-savings that come from increasing “faculty productivity,” but components of productivity – more students and larger classes – impact both the teaching and learning environments. Garland mentioned that the lack of state dollars has made it increasingly difficult to offer certain programs, especially those that are considered high-cost programs. It has also led to the loss of special grant initiatives that were supported with appropriations funding. The steady decline of the state appropriation and the strain on the PASSHE budget affect the quality of education that students receive at the fourteen state-owned universities.
After years of not fully meeting its budgetary needs, PASSHE has to start thinking about how the quality of education is slowly eroding because of the declining state support. The State System can only cut so many programs and positions, reallocate so many dollars, and raise so many private funds to fill the budget gap.
It is important to show legislators just how necessary the state appropriation is to maintain the quality of education at the PASSHE universities. Please contact your state Senator or Representative and tell them to support quality public higher education by working to restore and rebuild funding for PASSHE.