Defending his second proposal to cut funding drastically for public higher education, Gov. Tom Corbett delivered an unhappy Valentine’s Day apologia at the Siemens Healthcare plant in Chester County: It’s incumbent upon the people of Pennsylvania to call on [these colleges] to control the cost of education,” does he know the facts? Does he care?
Last year, the governor approved an 18 percent cut in state funding; this year there are 150 fewer faculty in the classroom. If the General Assembly authorizes his 20 percent cut, is he willing to live with the loss of another 150? How concerned is he really for the students at the universities that the commonwealth owns? Further, Corbett’s math seems to be a bit off. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Corbett stated his cuts would amount to 3.8 percent of the system’s operating budget. Since his cuts are $82 million and the system’s budget is $1.5 billion, his math simply doesn’t work. When he asked the Siemens executives if they could live with an 1.8 percent cut (the percent cited for Temple University), did he not realize that, even with his math, that’s half of what PASSHE would have to cope with? Since my calculator comes up with 5.5 percent cut of PASSHE’s budget, does he know the ramifications? Does he care?
Would the Siemens executives have been so willing to say they could survive with PASSHE’s steep cut? Did he ask them if they could do it for two years in a row? Does the governor know that Pennsylvania already ranks 46th out of 50 in its per capita support for higher education? Does he care?
Does Corbett truly not understand that there’s a significant difference between the budgeting models used at a nonprofit public university and a for-profit business like Siemens? Unlike a for-profit business, public universities don’t aim for profits to sustain themselves for future shortfalls: their mission is to run a zero-sum budget every year.
The governor and others in his administration need to learn more about the State System and the good work it has done amid transparency and cost controls. He needs to learn about the valuable — and yes, still affordable — education it provides to tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians. It’s a good thing that educating is our business and we do it well. But, first, he has to care.