Investments in the state system would be an investment in the future | Editorials
When a company hands out pink slips, they sometimes say they’re “adjusting” their company, if only because that seems a lot less harsh and more forward-looking than saying they’re sending some of its unemployed workers.
So even though the term “adjustment” has the nasty smell of corporate jargon surrounding it, it’s a fairly apt description of what the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has done to the over the past two years. . Faced with declining enrollment that shows no signs of going the other way any time soon, the system has combined six of its 14 campuses, with the University of California, Pennsylvania joining Edinboro and Clarion universities to become the University Pennsylvania Western starting next summer. The other three combined campuses, all located in the eastern part of the state, have yet to receive a new name.
Alumni, students, faculty, and staff have all expressed concern over the loss of each campus’ academic identity and programs, among many other concerns. But combining the campuses – “scaling” them – seems to have been the best option available.
With 30,000 fewer students on PASSHE campuses over the past decade, public universities like Cal U. have long struggled with declining state support, both in Pennsylvania and across the country. If you were lucky enough to attend a public college or university in the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s, you might have been able to graduate without racking up any debt. However, as lawmakers in many states have cut funding for higher education, tuition costs borne by American students and their families have risen more than 200% since the late 1980s. Specifically, the cost attendance at a PASSHE institution over the past decade has increased by 50%. As Cynthia Shapira, chair of PASSHE’s board of directors, pointed out, this high price “puts a degree from the state system out of reach for many low- and middle-income families.”
As part of a larger package that would increase education revenue at all levels, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed in his budget speech last week that PASSHE schools receive a $550 million increase, or 15%, of the funding in the 2022-23 budget. That wouldn’t propel Pennsylvania to the top spot in public school funding, but it would at least get it out of the bottom five. More than a matter of pride, however, it would represent a much-needed investment in the state’s public universities.
Marc Steir, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, noted a few years ago that if the Commonwealth increased funding for higher education, it would see higher wages, higher gross state product and income of the state,” and that is the virtuous circle of investing in higher education.
With a labor shortage and constant demand for skilled workers, investing in higher education must be one of Pennsylvania’s top priorities.