HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Budget hearings are underway at the state capitol, as lawmakers work toward a final budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Today, the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on funding for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
PASSHE consists of 14 universities and is separate from state-related universities, like Penn State, Temple, Pitt and others. However, both groups of schools receive funding from the state.
Governor Shapiro’s budget proposes a seven-percent increase for state-related universities and a two-percent increase for PASSHE, which some say is not enough.
“The state contribution represents a third of our revenues. A two-percent increase represents a two-thirds percent increase to our total revenues in a year where inflation is traveling around six-percent,” said Dr. Daniel Greenstein, the Chancellor of PASSHE.
PASSHE currently offers degrees to 85,000 students. Dr. Greenstein says PASSHE universities provide opportunities for students from all backgrounds to obtain careers that are high in demand.
“We are an engine of workforce development. We are an engine of social mobility. We’re not only fueling the workforce, we’re creating ladders of opportunity that people are climbing up. We focus our degrees in areas where the state needs employees: business, health care, teachers, public service,” said Dr. Greenstein.
Dr. Greenstein says PASSHE provides the most affordable option for higher education by about $5,000.
“We’ve always been the most affordable option for higher education. That gap had shrunk to under $2,000 a year, it’s now grown to about $5,000 a year. That is because of tuition freezes. The reason we were able to freeze tuition was because we basically took $300 million out of our operating costs,” said Dr. Greenstein.
Dr. Greenstein says tuition costs are still a burden for many families.
“For a middle-income, lower middle-income family, you’re asking that household to spend 40, 45-percent of its disposable income,” said Dr. Greenstein.
Governor Shapiro’s budget proposes an $11 million increase- about 2-percent- for PASSHE. Greenstein says PASSHE needs a 3.8-percent increase, plus another $112 million in order to freeze tuition and produce more degrees over the next decade. He says a tuition increase is inevitable with the current proposal.
“I mean, there’s nothing left to cut,” said Dr. Greenstein. “I would go to the board and recommend a tuition increase. I would have to,” he added.
The decision to provide the budget increase for PASSHE will ultimately be up to lawmakers.
“If we were able to do that, they could freeze tuition again. That’s important,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford). “Freezing tuition right now for our students, for those that live in my community that I serve and represent, that’s a big deal,” he added.
Owlett noted that state-related universities did not commit to a tuition freeze, even with a seven-percent proposed increase, during a budget hearing on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, when we talk to the state-related, even at seven-percent, they were not willing to commit to freezing tuition,” said Owlett. “The state-related’s have the best of both worlds. They can have state funding, but they are private institutions. The PASSHE system, we own them and we own the future of them,” he added.
Lawmakers have until the end of June to sort through Governor Shapiro’s proposals and finalize the budget.