Penn State president addresses House Appropriations Committee

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Education is “an investment with a history of excellent returns,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson told Pennsylvania lawmakers Monday (Feb. 25), and that investment is crucial in helping Penn State carry out its mission of teaching, research and service.

“Penn State would not be the same world-class institution it is without the support of the Commonwealth,” Erickson said in a statement presented to the House Appropriations Committee, “and I daresay, Pennsylvania would not be as economically strong and intellectually rich without the contributions of Penn State students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Erickson was in Harrisburg Monday, along with the leaders of the three other state-related universities, to provide details about Penn State's funding needs.

On Feb. 1, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced that he would be proposing level funding for the state’s four-year public universities in his 2013-14 state budget proposal; last year Penn State’s total appropriation from the state was $279 million.

After the state-related universities endured declining support from the state in recent years, Erickson expressed understanding for level funding in the face of economic strains. However, Erickson said he and other leaders at state-related institutions hope the 2013-14 rate is “the bottom and that we can continue to work together to rebuild the support for public higher education.”

The leaders from the universities of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln agreed, indicating that continued flat funding would have a detrimental effect on higher education in Pennsylvania over the long term. 

Several lawmakers expressed concerns about rising tuition rates. Erickson said the most recent tuition hike -- an average increase of 2.4 percent for undergraduate students -- was the lowest in 45 years, and that the University is aggressively raising funds for scholarships. The University currently is in the latter stage of a major fundraising campaign, For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, the largest component of which is scholarship support. Erickson said the University is aiming to make the next tuition increase “very modest.”

The University also is aggressively managing costs, Erickson said, pointing to recent savings from employee health savings accounts for new employees and the elimination of some academic programs that became too costly to maintain and did not attract a sufficient number of students.

The governor’s call for level funding would mean about $214 million for Penn State’s educational and general budget, $44.7 million for agricultural research and Extension, and nearly $13.9 million for Penn College and $6.5 million for the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. The University is seeking more commitment from the state in areas separate from the educational and general budget.

Level funding for the University’s agricultural research and Extension would not cover expenses for 2013-14, and Penn State is seeking a $2.4 million increase. Contributions to the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) alone are projected to cost the University $533,000 for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The University also is seeking more funding for the Academic Medical Center line item. The governor's flat funding proposal, which includes $2.9 million in state funding for Penn State Hershey Medical Center and $3.6 million in matching federal funds, would result in $6.5 million in total appropriations. Penn State is seeking a return to 2010-11 funding levels, which included $5.7 million in state funding for the medical center and $7.4 million in matching federal funds for a total appropriation of $13.1 million.

Some members of the committee also expressed sympathy for the universities facing flat funding.

Committee Chairman William Adolph Jr. said, however, that the legislature would try to do all that it could to boost the funding for universities, but revenues for the state were only at 2007 levels, asking, "Where would additional money come from?" 

"We still have to deal with the realities of the situation," he said. 

Erickson will appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in Harrisburg.

The governor's full $28.4 billion budget proposal for the state is available here.

Last Updated April 29, 2013