Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. – College and university students in Pennsylvania are paying a high price because state funding cuts implemented during the recession aren't being restored, according to a new report.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C., identifies Pennsylvania as one of only eight states where the process of bringing funding levels for higher education back to pre-recession levels hasn't begun.
Sharon Ward, executive director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says it puts students at a distinct disadvantage, since tuition rates in the state already are among the highest in the nation.
"When higher education funding is stagnant, it invariably translates into tuition increases that make it harder for students to enter college, and it means that they leave with more debt," says Ward.
She adds that cuts have hit lower-income students especially hard, by hindering their access to higher education.
"That's bad for the Commonwealth, and it certainly means lower earnings and less advancement for those students who are not able to get a college degree," she says.
In terms of solutions, Ward believes Pennsylvania needs to prioritize spending. She notes that in recent years, as state funding for colleges and universities have decreased, prison spending has risen.
As she puts it, "Pennsylvania needs to make a plan to start to restore cuts to higher education and make sure that there are funds available to keep tuition from rising and make college more affordable."
In his 2010-2011 budget, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed slashing state funding for the state's four-year public institutions in half, but the Legislature agreed to a trim of between 18 and 19 percent. The next year, Corbett proposed cuts of 20 to 30 percent – and lawmakers shot them down.
The governor's latest budget proposal calls for keeping college and university funding level for the upcoming fiscal year.
See the full report online on the CBPP website.