Senate Appropriations leader wants to retain higher ed funds

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HARRISBURG -- The chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee says Pennsylvania's colleges have shouldered their "fair share" of budget cuts, and he will be pushing to keep funding for those schools at current levels.

Republican Sen. Jake Corman, who chairs that panel, expressed concerns during a hearing this morning with the state education secretary that continued cuts will force Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities to alter their missions. Reductions in the current year already have made them into "state-barely-related universities," he said.

"I think higher education has done enough," said Mr. Corman, whose district includes Penn State's flagship campus.

Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed to reduce funding for those four universities, as well as for the State System of Higher Education schools and community colleges, by about $240 million next year. Those potential cuts would follow the significant reductions approved last year in the governor's first spending plan.

He and others in his administration have pointed to the continued increases in tuition at the four state-related universities regardless of the level of state funding as an example of those schools needing to find ways to cut costs.

But Mr. Corman pointed to the difference in the cost of in-state and out-of-state tuition at those schools, arguing that Pennsylvania students save $1.3 billion in annual tuition discounts in return for the $500 million that the state contributes.

He added that he'll be asking officials from Pitt, Penn State and the other colleges when they appear before his panel on Wednesday what decisions they would have to make if state aid continues to shrink and they become more like private universities.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said during a House hearing last week that the loss of state funding over recent years has begun to push those universities to think more like private schools, which he said have a different community mission and significantly higher price tags.

The long-term relationship between public universities and their state funding will depend in part on the results of the governor's newly formed commission, said Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. However, he contested Mr. Corman's description that the proposed funding level for next year would erode that relationship.

"I think most Pennsylvanians would still see that this is a substantial investment on the part of Pennsylvania to these universities," Mr. Tomalis said. "These are large line items in the budget."

More details in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: or 717-787-4254.


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