APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash’s comments as prepared:

Chairwoman Shapira, governors, Chancellor Greenstein, presidents, and guests:

My name is Kenneth M. Mash, and I am the president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which is the union that represents the System’s faculty and coaches.

My colleagues and I are quite engaged with the System redesign. We see it as a chance to provide additional opportunities and to make some long-needed changes to the State System. It also has the potential to more wisely spend the Commonwealth’s dollars, which benefits all of our students and the citizens of the Commonwealth.

However, we do not view it as a panacea, particularly with regard to the crisis in college affordability.

The numbers presented yesterday with regard to the enrollment of people from lesser means were startling. But those numbers tell only part of the story. A story that is the result of the Commonwealth’s persistent disinvestment in public higher education. The result is increasing college costs.

Too many make the difficult choice not to go, which means that we cannot live up to the System’s legislative mandate to provide an affordable education. Continuous cuts means that we have cut out opportunities for students, which threatens our mandate to provide a high-quality college education. Those who do attend have to take on increasing debt.

The numbers are startling and, frankly, embarrassing.

There are tens of billions of dollars — $62 billion — in outstanding student debt in this Commonwealth.

If the governor’s 2019 proposed state appropriation is approved, funding for the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) will be similar to what it was in 2005–06.

Of course, we appreciate the recent reinvestment in public higher education, especially for PASSHE. However, it is important to acknowledge that the Commonwealth has restored only $62.2 million of the $90.6 million cut in 2011. That $28 million difference does not even account for inflation!

In 1991–92, the state allocation accounted for 55% of the cost for a full-time student (FTE). Since 2003, this percentage has steadily declined, and as of 2017 the state accounted for only 27% of funding per FTE. And that number has continued to shrink. This means that our policymakers have decided that today’s students should pick up 73% or more of the cost.

Pennsylvania ranks 48th in educational appropriations per full-time student. Our funding is $3,521 below the national average per full-time student.

To keep things in perspective, it is interesting to see just how much our universities would be receiving if funding had kept up with inflation. Adjusting to 2019 dollars, the State System’s allocation of $465.2 million would be $600 million. But today, we receive only $475 million.

Our system is being starved, and it is not enough for policymakers to shrug their shoulders. This is a policy choice.

In its 2018 “Best States” report, U.S. News and World Report ranked Pennsylvania 50th for higher education. 50th in the U.S. News. 51st in average student loan debt. 49th in student loan debt per capita. 48th in higher education support per capita.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s more than an embarrassment. It has made it more and more difficult for every part of our universities to best serve our students. More important, these conscious policy decisions are hurting a generation by denying them a real opportunity for a college education or straddling them with ridiculous loans. The implications of this for every Pennsylvanian are enormous.

My point here is that it behooves all of us when we talk to our legislators to present them with these stark facts.

We are, of course, appreciative of whatever additional money is sent to the System. But the overall picture is an embarrassment. Our public officials need to hear this in loud terms from a multitude of voices, and we believe it is the duty of everyone associated with this System to make the case that this generation of students deserves better.

Thank you for your time and attention.