This article was submitted on behalf of Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh; Eric J. Barron, president of Penn State University; Neil Theobald, president of Temple University; and Richard Green, president of Lincoln University.
As leaders of Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities, we are calling for quick and decisive action to address the commonwealth’s failure to fund our schools.
Most Pennsylvanians are aware of the state’s continuing budget impasse. What many citizens may not realize is that four of our state’s most vibrant universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — receive funds via appropriation bills that exist outside of the state’s broader general budget. And now, our stand-alone appropriation bills have become the latest bargaining chip in a protracted political fight.
For many decades, and through several budget crises, the financial commitment of the state government and the taxpayers has built institutions to educate our youth, to conduct research that changes lives and brings billions of dollars into the state, and to operate outreach programs that impact millions of Pennsylvanians and add immeasurably to the economic vitality of the commonwealth.
But eight months into this fiscal year, our schools still have not received any funding from the state — a hardship with serious impacts — and we now face the very real prospect of receiving zero dollars for the entire year, which translates to a combined $600 million shortfall.
It is not for us to assign blame for this unprecedented situation, but instead to focus on the consequences if the state budget impasse is not soon resolved.
Even though state support for our institutions is at its lowest level since 1995, it still enables us to offer access to high-quality higher education for more than 110,000 Pennsylvania students at a substantial discount to our costs and in many underserved locations throughout the state. Without those funds, our universities would be forced to replace nearly $600 million from other sources. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the impact on our students.
We have managed this crisis as strategically and conscientiously as we can. Year after year, our universities have exacted an array of cost-cutting measures to keep the cost of a college education within reach of working families while pushing to maintain the academic excellence that our students expect and deserve.
We will fail our students, employees and communities if our elected officials do not quickly reach a long-term budget agreement that provides funding for our universities.
There are only two options available: Invest in our future or continue to punish our students and employees and the citizens of Pennsylvania while elected officials battle over unrelated issues.
The best option is clear.