Educators hit back over Pa. budget plans

    Penn State’s president and the University of Pittsburgh’s chancellor used a Wednesday afternoon appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee to push back against comments Budget Secretary Charles Zogby made during an interview with WHYY.

    On Tuesday morning, Zogby said a person would have had to been “living under a rock” to be surprised by the fact Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget slashed spending and avoided tax increases. The Republican wants to cut state support for Penn State, Pitt, Lincoln and Temple universities in half, among other proposals.

    “Gee, I followed the election pretty closely,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. “I had conversations with the governor while he was on the campaign trail. I co-chair his education transition committee. I don’t think I was living under a rock. But, in fact, the depth and disproportionate nature of these proposed cuts was both stunning and surprising to me.”

    Zogby attacked what he called low four-year graduation rates at state-related and State System of Higher Education schools during the Tuesday interview. He singled out Penn State Dubois’ 29 percent figure, questioning whether Pennsylvania taxpayers were getting enough value for the money they’re sending to schools.

    Penn State President Graham Spanier said Zogby’s comments aren’t “a completely accurate reflection of the picture.”

    “First of all, it’s a commuter campus,” he said. “It is not a residential campus for traditional 18 to 22-year-olds. In fact, at the Penn State DuBois campus, half of the students are enrolled in associate degrees. In two-year degree programs … they will not show up in our statistics, of completing a college degree in four years. And indeed, at that campus, where 97 percent of the students receive financial aid, virtually every student works, either full time or part time.”

    The executives told lawmakers they’d bridge the funding gap by raising tuition, cutting courses and services and laying off employees, among other measures. They all took great pains to stress that tuition hikes alone won’t fill the budget hole.

    Ann Weaver Hart, Temple’s president, said that would take “a 44 percent tuition increase. That’s just not to be contemplated.”

    Spanier said the reduction would be devastating to some programs, even though it makes up just 4 percent of Penn State’s overall funding. “In agriculture alone, we are talking about 440 employees that we would have to lay off under the budget scenario that is out there. These are not made up numbers. These are not numbers designed to shock people. These are actual projections.”

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