Barron addresses Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations committee

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Penn State president Eric J. Barron addressed the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee on March 1. Barron emphasized the critical importance of Penn State’s long-term partnership with the Commonwealth, and underscored the university’s role as an economic driver for Pennsylvania.

The leaders of the Commonwealth’s other state-related universities joined Barron for the hearing, including Temple University President Richard Englert; University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; and Lincoln University Interim President Richard Green.

“We value our historic partnership with the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and the role it has played in building an educated workforce, an economically strong Commonwealth, and a university that is ranked among the top one percent in the world,” Barron said in a prepared statement to the committee. “Record numbers of students are applying to Penn State; our research enterprise topped $836 million in expenditures last year — the second highest total in Penn State history; and our service record is unparalleled—most notably, 16,500 students worked together to raise more than $10 million for THON 2017.”

“We hope you share our pride in these accomplishments, because they are a credit to the Commonwealth’s investment in Penn State. I wish to thank Governor Wolf and the entire General Assembly for the commitment to higher education, and in particular, for their work in recent years to restore past cuts to higher education funding,” Barron said.

In light of significant budgetary shortfalls faced this year by the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s $32.3 billion budget proposal suggests level funding at $230.4 million for Penn State’s education and general fund, which is used primarily to offset the cost of a Penn State education for citizens of the Commonwealth. Barron expressed appreciation for Wolf’s proposal of a level appropriation.

“The appropriation plays a central role in helping Penn State continue to serve the working families of Pennsylvania, including approximately 30 percent of our students who are the first in their families to go to college, and many who are federally defined as need-based students,” Barron said. “We look forward to working with the Governor and the legislature to find ways to maintain and increase support for Pennsylvania students and their families.”

The governor’s budget also includes proposed funding levels of:

-- $20 million for Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport;

-- $51.8 million for Penn State Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension; and

-- $11.3 million for the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.

Sen. Jay Costa (D-43), the Senate Democratic Leader, asked the assembled leaders about their institutions’ role in economic development, and whether those contributions are properly valued by the legislature.

Barron emphasized the University’s ongoing initiatives to invest in economic development and job creation, and said he will continue to converse with the governor and legislature about funding in future years for the Invent Penn State initiative. Launched in 2015, the initiative has included the creation of more than 20 incubators launched or in development across the state at Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses.

“I would like to be a part of a virtuous cycle in which we work hard to get those ideas into the marketplace, help those students create companies, help them do it in Pennsylvania,” Barron said. “If we create this cycle, we change the tax revenue picture for this state, and in doing so we hope that the legislature will provide more funding for us so we can do more to enable our students. That’s the type of virtuous cycle I think universities should adopt as a principle, and that is why Invent Penn State is taking off the way it is. A lot of people in communities see the value of our role in driving the economy as opposed to simply talking about our impact on the economy.”

Barron pledged to continue significant, long-term efforts to cut costs and find efficiencies at Penn State. The University has enacted nearly $383 million in cuts to recurring costs since 1992, including $19.8 million in 2016-17 alone. These major initiatives have helped defray costs to students while maintaining and improving the quality of Penn State’s academic programs.

“We are mindful of the budgetary challenges the Commonwealth faces, and we are working hard to be responsible stewards of the appropriation,” Barron said. “Penn State’s most pressing financial challenges are familiar and largely out of our control: pension costs and rising health care premiums. The support of Commonwealth in an annual appropriation will help us manage these costs, while still allowing for investment in programs to improve access and affordability, and to promote economic development and student career success.”

Barron said the administration will remain focused on keeping tuition increases as low as possible while maintaining the world-class quality of a Penn State degree. Most important, he said, is controlling the total cost of a degree, which includes tuition but also requires a focus on student retention, reducing the rate of student borrowing, and providing the necessary resources to ensure every student’s timely graduation.

An example, Barron said, is the Pathway to Success Summer Start Program.

“This innovative summer work-study-scholarship program has increased retention by more than five percent; increased math proficiency; improved GPAs, and enabled students to stay on track to graduate on time. That’s just one of several programs currently being piloted at Penn State. Our goal is to enable every student, especially those of Pennsylvania’s working families, to acquire a world-class degree.”

Pennsylvania Senate and House lawmakers now must agree on a budget and present it to the governor for his signature by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Last Updated March 02, 2017