Presidents from Pennsylvania’s state-related universities — Lincoln, Penn State, Pitt, and Temple — appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee to talk about the 2022-23 budget on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (Screenshot)
Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities want to keep tuition affordable and keep students in the commonwealth for years to come. But to accomplish this, universities need money to avoid increasing student costs.
And on Thursday, presidents of Penn State, Lincoln, and Temple universities, and the University of Pittsburgh went before the Senate Appropriations Committee to talk finances ahead of the 2022-23 budget.
In the final budget proposal of his administration, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has called for allocating nearly $28.5 million to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities. Republicans, who hold the majority in the Legislature, have cautioned against the outgoing governor’s overall spending plan, saying it could result in billions of dollars in debt.
Responding to a question from Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, who asked the university presidents if they can live with the governor’s proposed funding allocation — at least a 5 percent increase per school — the university leaders said they support the request and argued that continued investments in education allow Pennsylvania to thrive and ensure students stay in the commonwealth even after graduation.
“We want to give our residents in Pennsylvania the highest-quality education at the best price possible,” Temple University President Jason Wingard told lawmakers. “And we’re competing with other states in the process of doing that. And so, we can live with five percent, but we can do better with six.”
Lincoln University President Brenda Allen said the school relies on allocations from the General Assembly to support about 20 percent of its operating budget.
Penn State University President Eric Barron, who steps down from his position this year, said there has never been a time where he hasn’t wanted to ask the General Assembly for more funds. But the outgoing university president told lawmakers that a 5 percent increase “makes a difference.”
“We are operating on sub-inflation state appropriations for more than a decade. And we are also operating on sub-inflation tuition for Pennsylvania residents,” Barron said, adding that it’s hard to achieve without year-in, year-out inflationary costs. “That means I have to find new ways to cut those funds in order to balance it and keep that tuition at the level that is the best that we can offer.”
Barron added: “This is a challenge. It’s getting harder and harder. Twelve million, in our case, from the state, will make an enormous difference to us in working to catch up.”
University of Pittsburgh President Patrick Gallagher, who said the school supports Wolf’s request, said the most relevant question is: “Can our Pennsylvania families live with it?”
He added: “Since it really goes to them, that’s really the central question.”
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected graduation rates?
Despite operating with mixed learning models and under varying COVID-19 mitigation guidelines for the last two years, university leaders said graduation numbers were unaffected by the pandemic.
Barron said the university “did better than normal” and focused on helping students who might not have access to reliable internet during remote learning.
Wingard added that Temple is on track for graduation rates, “but it took a lot of investments.” The main challenge — mental health — is something Temple and other university leaders anticipate having to address for years to come, he added.
What does enrollment look like for this year and next?
Allen said enrollment at Lincoln is “slightly down” this year, with a “real dip” from the first semester into the second term.
“A lot of it … has to do with the way in which people are comfortable coming out of COVID and being on a residential campus,” she said.
After switching to the Common Application, a universal college application tool, Lincoln has seen a 300 percent increase in applications this year, Allen said.
Gallagher told lawmakers that Pitt set a record for applicants to the Oakland campus, with numbers up 60 percent.
“We have never seen application numbers this high for the University of Pittsburgh,” he said.
Direct applications to Pitt’s regional campuses are down, he said.
Though Penn State saw a “dip” in enrollment related to COVID-19, Barron said the university is “well above” the 15,000 applications it received last year.
Temple was down about 1,400 students because of the pandemic, Wingard said.
And since students applying for admission this fall are playing a “wait-and-see game,” the university is doing the same before making definitive predictions about enrollment, Wingard said.
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