Thursday, March 17, 2011

President Hart and state-related university leaders appear before Pa. Senate Appropriations Committee

Temple President Ann Weaver Hart and the leaders of Penn State, Pitt and Lincoln made the case for Pennsylvania’s continued support for the state-related universities to legislators at a budget hearing on Wednesday in Harrisburg.

Appearing before members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the university leaders fielded questions from senators on the impact Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed cut of more than 50 percent in appropriations to the institutions would have on students and their families, employees and on the overall prosperity of the state.

In her remarks at the meeting and in documents distributed to members of the committee beforehand, President Hart stressed that Temple is ready to partner with the Commonwealth in resolving its fiscal challenges.

“We know that everyone must make sacrifices as we collectively work through the impact of the economic recession on the state and on Pennsylvania families,” she said. “However, the scale of the reduction of Commonwealth support proposed in the governor’s budget will have devastating and long-term effects in the lives of our citizens and on the economy of Pennsylvania.” The president reminded lawmakers of Temple’s efforts over the past three years to manage costs and keep tuition low, and highlighted the economic benefits Temple provides to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“Temple was taking steps to meet the challenges of these economic conditions well before the announcement of the governor’s proposed budget,” said Hart, adding that the university implemented a series of measures beginning in 2008 to permanently reduce its budget by $40 million.

Hart explained the dramatic impact the proposed reductions in Commonwealth appropriation funding to Temple would have on current students, and in particular the disproportionate effect the cut would have on working families throughout Pennsylvania.

“Temple will not impose the full burden of the proposed appropriation reduction on its students, who would face a 44 percent increase in tuition or an additional $5,000 for in-state undergraduates in the coming year,” said Hart. “We also will be unable to make up the difference in budget cuts alone without eliminating significant numbers of jobs and programs that are vital to the Commonwealth.

“In-state tuition gives us the opportunity to develop the judges, dentists, doctors, journalists, pharmacists, teachers, nurses and other professionals of this state, many of whom are from blue-collar families who could never have aspired to these careers if they didn’t have this opportunity,” said Hart. “I think of those families and those students when I contemplate what a 50 percent cut to our state appropriation would mean.”

All four university leaders cautioned the committee about the long-term effects the proposed budget would have on Pennsylvania’s economy, through the direct loss of university jobs, decreased economic activity, lower levels of educational attainment and the loss of intellectual capital that attracts new employers to the Commonwealth.

Senators from both parties expressed support for the state-related institutions, and noted that the governor’s proposal represents the beginning of a process that involves further discussion and input from all parties.

“Clearly this part of the budget has gotten the most amount of attention since the governor’s budget proposal was announced last week,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jake Corman. “In a lot of ways Gov. Corbett did you a tremendous favor by introducing the budget the way he did…. Now the public is going to get engaged, and maybe put higher education at a higher level of priority for funding in future.”

The discussion hits close to home for President Hart, who attended the state-funded University of Utah and later was named to the faculty there, all while raising her four children. “I really get it personally,” said Hart. “I wouldn’t be here if it were not for a state commitment to higher education.”

The university leaders will present before the House Appropriations Committee on March 28 at 10:30 a.m. in the Main Capitol Building, room 140. The hearing will be carried live on PCN.

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