Pennsylvania budget plan calls for 15.7% increase for financially-struggling university system

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Diving brief:

  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a budget plan on Tuesday this would provide the financially anemic Pennsylvania state’s higher education system with $75 million more in general funding for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
  • The proposed cash injection, a 15.7% increase over the previous year’s budget, was celebrated by the system, as it exceeded the amount requested by its leaders. It follows a major restructuring of the system, which began to merge six of its institutions into two.
  • Wolf, a Democrat, also wants to funnel $200 million toward a proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship program, which would help low- and middle-income students in high-demand fields attend a PASSHE university or community college. The money would come from federal funds and a financial aid pool for the state’s horse racing industry.

Overview of the dive:

state budget cuts, widely adopted by former Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, has rocked the system’s finances over the past decade. Pennsylvania has one of the lowest levels of state appropriations for higher education per full-time equivalent student in the United States, according to the Association of State Higher Education Senior Executivesor SHEO.

The 14-campus system raised tuition in response to declining funding. But officials said that because the system was designed to meet the needs of low-income students, some of them could no longer afford a PASSHE education. Enrollments have fallen by more than 20% in 10 years.

PASCHE, which welcomes nearly 89,000 students, has also suffered from pandemic-induced financial strains and a drop in the number of recent high school graduates, who make up the vast majority of its students. It competes in a highly saturated post-secondary education market with renowned public and private institutions, including Pennsylvania State University.

System Chancellor Dan Greenstein wanted to take PASSHE in a different direction. His signature proposal, which the system’s board of directors approved in July amid torrential reviews, will merge six colleges into two new entities. One new university will focus on online education, and the other will focus on alternative degrees.

Greenstein had pitched the consolidation as a way to show lawmakers that PASSHE is serious about reinventing itself, which will make it worthy of more state investment.

PASSHE trustees in October requested $550 million in general funding for the year 2022-2023, up from $477 million.

Wolf offered $552 million for the system.

Its plan recognizes that PASSHE is “a portal to educational opportunity,” said Tom Harnisch, SHEEO’s vice president for government relations.

Federal coronavirus aid has been instrumental in pumping up state budgets, allowing policymakers to spend more money on higher education. But Harnisch said he hasn’t seen as dramatic an increase in state funding as Wolf is proposing.

During Wolf’s budget speech On Tuesday, he said the Commonwealth was enjoying a budget surplus of $2-3 billion.

He also wants to dedicate $150 million in federal pandemic assistance to PASSHE. Its faculty union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties, said the money would be applied to marketing, student and faculty support, and diversity and equity initiatives.

The proposed credits “bring the state system back to its original mission of providing high-quality education at the lowest possible cost to students,” union president Jamie Martin said. said in a press release. “Public higher education is supposed to be affordable. Breaking that promise has devastating effects on our Commonwealth.”

Heads of State have also already committed $200 million at PASSHE over several years.

PASSHE spokesman Cody Jones said in an email that the system is grateful to the governor for his proposal.

“The investment will drive ongoing transformational change underway – change that will ensure all Pennsylvanians have affordable pathways to post-secondary degrees,” Jones said.

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