Pa. House lawmakers ask leaders of state-linked universities to justify proposed funding growth

Lawmakers probed the operation of Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday, asking the institutions’ presidents to define the value taxpayers receive for their contributions to schools’ bottom lines. .

Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln Universities would receive a 7.1% increase in state funding, which has remained flat for the past four years, under the proposal Governor Josh Shapiro’s 2023-2024 budget.

That’s a 5% increase over what Shapiro proposed for the 10 public universities in the state of Pennsylvania’s higher education system.

Republican lawmakers focused on Pitt and Penn State’s multi-billion dollar endowments on Tuesday. Finding that they, along with Temple, were ranked among the 10 most expensive public schools in the nation in 2021, lawmakers asked their presidents to defend the extra spending.

Asked by Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, if universities would commit to a tuition freeze if they received the 7% increase, each president replied that they could not.

“At Lincoln we are 70% dependent on tuition so we are forced to increase, inflation is at its peak and so just to manage the budget we couldn’t do without a small increase in fees tuition,” Lincoln President Brenda A. Allen said. .

Warner said that without greater transparency about how each university spends state aid funding and General Assembly representation among university administrators, he would not support Shapiro’s proposal to increase funding.

Other lawmakers have asked the presidents to explain how they are working to ensure their higher education opportunities remain accessible to low-income and first-generation students and what they are doing to ensure students get successfully graduate and enter the job market.

Together, the four state-affiliated universities would receive more than $607 million in public funding if Shapiro’s proposal were approved without modification.

“This chamber struggles to balance the political debate over direct funding to students or the continued selective funding of individual universities,” said State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland, noting that his own family has had some hard time. wrong with the tuition fees of state-linked universities.

Pitt Chancellor Pat Gallagher said Pennsylvania’s state-linked university system uses every state tax dollar it receives to provide reduced tuition for state residents. But Pennsylvania universities face the same cost pressures as those in the rest of the country, and Pennsylvania’s per capita investment in higher education is among the lowest.

Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi noted that while much of the endowment funds universities receive are earmarked for specific uses such as hiring faculty or research. Penn State spends about 5% of the interest earned from its endowment on scholarships. Gallagher added that Pitt spends all the money earned from his undesignated endowments on financial aid.

House Education Committee Chairman Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, asked what universities are doing to ensure admission of minority students keeps pace with population growth in majority minority communities such as Allentown in his district.

Temple University President Jason Wingard said last fall’s incoming students were the most diverse in Temple’s history and that’s the expected result of outreach efforts.

“Across the state, we need to make sure students, their families, and communities understand that higher education is an option,” Wingard said.

With first-generation students representing 65 percent of Temple’s student body, making higher education accessible goes beyond ensuring they can afford tuition.

“They may not have family members who can counsel them and give them advice on completing their education,” Wingard said.

Allen said 95% of his student body are college students and the majority are first-generation college students.

“When you come from a first-generation background, you don’t have a lot of knowledge about how to be a good consumer of what educational companies are offering,” Allen said.

The biggest thing Lincoln does to ensure students succeed is to provide funding beyond what students can get in financial aid to cover the actual cost of tuition.

“For a Lincoln student who is a resident of Pennsylvania, that gap is typically about $6,000 to $7,000 a year,” Allen said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot to people of means, but for low-income families, $7,000 might as well be $70,000 to help them achieve their dreams.

With Temple’s six-week graduate student strike in recent memory, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, asked what impact it had on Temple and what lessons administrators had learned.

“For us to be successful as a state in attracting more students to our institutions, we must attract and retain workers in our higher education institutions,” Fiedler said.

Wingard said the graduate student strike was unfortunate, and during the work stoppage, Temple made contracts with two other unions. But Temple has taken a hit to his reputation and must work to fix it.

“We maintain our mission. We must come together and unite to repair and heal from this time. And we can and we will,” Wingard said.

Rep. Abigail Salisbury, D-Allegheny, noted that she teaches as an adjunct at Pitt, but has the luxury of doing so in her spare time as a practicing attorney. Many adjunct teachers struggle to make a living teaching multiple courses, sometimes at different institutions, to make ends meet.

“I want to make sure that when you prepare your budget, you are aware that you need to provide a living wage for your employees, especially adjunct faculty,” Salisbury said.

Gallagher said making sure Pitt workers earn a decent wage has been a priority for the university for several years, with the modernization of its human resources office allowing it to do analytics to ensure no of its employees is below acceptable compensation levels. He noted that Pitt’s faculty, with the exception of the medical school staff, is represented by the United Steelworkers union.


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