President Erickson's statement to the House Appropriations Committee

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Penn State President Rodney Erickson spoke today (Feb. 25) before the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee during a hearing to discuss funding for Pennsylvania's state-related universities.

Full coverage of the hearing will be published on news.psu.edu later today.

The following is a statement presented by Erickson to members of the committee at the start of the hearing: 

April 1st marks the 150th anniversary of the acceptance of the federal land grant by Pennsylvania, and the designation of the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania as the sole land grant university for the state. So began the partnership between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Penn State. That relationship has been fundamental to our mission of teaching, research and service, and it has shaped our institution. Penn State would not be the same world-class institution it is without the support of the Commonwealth, and I daresay, Pennsylvania would not be as economically strong and intellectually rich without the contributions of Penn State students, faculty, staff and alumni.

I know that you also value our partnership, and we’re grateful for the work of the General Assembly and the Governor to keep our appropriation funding level, and to stem the further decline in state support. We are well aware of the fiscal pressures facing the state, and we’re doing our part through major cost reduction strategies, only providing for basic operating increases, and keeping tuition as low as possible. This year, our students have had the lowest tuition increase in 45 years.

That said, I need to emphasize the importance of the state’s investment in Penn State. Indeed, it is an investment, with a history of excellent returns. In future years we must commit ourselves to rebuilding the financial support for our state-related universities, which has eroded over the past decade and more.

While multiple revenue sources support the Penn State’s three-part mission of teaching, research and service, it’s the state appropriation that supports the cost of attendance for in-state students and the agricultural research and cooperative extension programs that are so integral to Penn State’s land grant mission. Penn State offers in-state tuition that is substantially less than the actual cost of instruction, and about 60 percent of the rate paid by nonresidents of Pennsylvania.  

Moreover, Penn State has 19 undergraduate campuses across the state. Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses provide educational opportunities for many non-traditional students and those with fewer financial resources – those who live at home and who often work full- and part-time jobs. Notably, 40 percent of our Commonwealth Campus students are first-generation college students; 62 percent work 22 hours a week on average; and their median family income is 10 percent less than that of the state’s 2010 median family income. State appropriations are critical for maintaining Penn State’s in-state tuition and our regional campuses.

I’m acutely aware that we need to adapt to today’s economic realities. To be sure, state legislatures and governors have tough choices: your ability to provide government services has decreased while the public’s need for them has increased.

We also know the difficulty of asking already hard-pressed Americans to pay higher taxes to subsidize public university tuition to enable lower and middle income families to afford to send their children to college. But we must address the current reality that our tuition is in danger of becoming out of reach – even for in-state students. Over the last decade, the average loan debt of a graduating student in the U.S. has gone from $21,700 to $27,700.

Our state may not immediately see the effects of forcing working class students, even upper middle-class students, to choose between an opportunity to obtain a college degree and the load of a crushing debt burden for many years to come. But we know this – mortgaging our children’s higher education future is not the pathway to a great and competitive state for future generations. 

Consider that every dollar of the state appropriation is an investment – in Pennsylvania students, and also in the future of the Commonwealth. The work under way on our campuses has always had the ability to transform lives, create new industries and serve as the economic engine for our state.

Pennsylvania’s state-related universities are a powerhouse for economic growth and vitality in the Commonwealth, together conducting about $2 billion annually in research activity with the bulk of those dollars coming from outside the state. Penn State alone accounts for over $807 million dollars a year in research expenditures, helping to support the state’s number one industry — agriculture — as well as a broad base of science and technology, health care and national defense needs. Penn State’s overall economic impact on the Commonwealth in 2008 was estimated at $17 billion in direct, indirect and induced economic activity, and currently is likely to be closer to $20 billion annually.

Public research universities across the nation produced 436 startups in 2010 alone, according to the National Science Board. Private university research and innovation multiplies the impact, which leads to entrepreneurship and high-wage jobs. A recent study indicates that since 2005, startups were the greatest contributor to job creation and to job growth overall. Penn State is regularly ranked among the top three or four universities in the nation for the amount of industry-sponsored research that is conducted on our campuses.

In Pennsylvania, you’ll often find the most vibrant local economies in the geographic areas with the highest concentrations of research activity. Research and discovery, coupled with the education and training of highly skilled and job-ready graduates, and supported by one of the nation’s largest and best outreach programs, all contribute to the major role that Penn State plays in Pennsylvania’s economic success.

These are the facts that drive the decisions we must make as we position Penn State and the Commonwealth to succeed in the future. Thank you.

Last Updated February 25, 2013