Good morning and thank you for allowing me an opportunity to talk with you at a time when our system is under attack like never before.  Our shared mission of ensuring educational opportunity to the children of all Pennsylvania families, regardless of their financial resources, is a sacred trust.  At a time when it seems inexplicably fashionable to demean the value of public education and the commitment of public educators, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the extraordinary contributions of the State System of Higher Education. Our system provides a four-year post-secondary education to more Pennsylvanians than any other single entity in the Commonwealth.  We do so for less cost and we do it more efficiently than any of them.  Moreover, our students stay in Pennsylvania in far greater numbers than our quasi-public competitors and provide the core of the Commonwealth’s educated work force.  Our graduates are in every field and in every community and our universities are important economic engines in rural communities across the state.  We provide jobs and expand opportunities throughout the Commonwealth.

Consider this: tuition & fees at West Chester this year were $7,680.  At Penn State, they were $15,250 and at Bucknell $43,866 (acc to Collegeboard.com).  This year there are 108,000 undergraduates in the State System from the Commonwealth and the quality and value of our universities attract students from all over the world.  While virtually every private and state related university and college has raised tuition by massive percentages in the last five years, our tuition has increased by less than any other public system in the country.

The Governor’s proposal guts the state system.  It asks these presidents to somehow go to their universities and cut 15% of their operating budget.  That’s 15% after years of holding the line on tuition and cutting down on expenses. That’s 15% after 7 schools announced last summer that they were in financial places that meant laying off faculty might be necessary.  That’s 15% with a constant growth of students — and no one thinks we’ll have fewer in the fall.

I think you’ve all heard the numbers: the Chancellor has made them clear. To fill the $270 million cut that the Governor’s proposal represents, it would take $2,200 per student, or approximately a 33% in tuition increase.  No one expects you all to do that.

On the other hand, the Chancellor said in the Senate Appropriations hearing that to fill that hole would mean laying off approximately 2,600 staff, including faculty, using a simple average salary for employees.  No one wants to do that.

We need to keep reminding people about the quality work the system does.  Everyone has a story to tell: probably every one of the students on the Board can tell about someone who wouldn’t be in college without the affordability of a system school.  A program like the Keystone Honors program, completely cut in the Governor’s proposal, has brought young people from poverty to the highest levels of academic achievement — Fulbright scholarships, law schools, and medical schools.

We are about opportunity.  Our mantra for years now has been: do more with less.

These are tough times.  Let’s stick together, keep working on the Assembly, and continue to put out the positive message that the system has done things right and deserves more support than the Governor has proposed.  We deserve every dollar we received last year.  We are the door of opportunity for first-generation college students; we are a window into a different world; we are the foundation on which to build dreams.  The Governor has put us in the headlines; let’s use them to remind everyone of the value of the system.

Steve Hicks

State APSCUF President

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