Penn State president addresses Pa. Senate Appropriations Committee

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Penn State President Eric Barron emphasized the importance of Pennsylvania’s continued investment in higher education during a public hearing with state lawmakers on Tuesday.

Barron was joined by the leaders of Pennsylvania’s other state-related institutions of higher education to address the State Senate Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol Building. The leaders, including Temple University President Richard Englert; University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; and Lincoln University President Brenda Allen, said public funding remains an important part of the higher education landscape in Pennsylvania, benefitting citizens statewide.

“This funding is critically important to Pennsylvania students and families, affecting tuition as well as agricultural research, cooperative extension, and medical assistance funding,” Barron said in remarks to legislators. “Our partnership has impacted the Commonwealth in unmistakable ways: Together we have educated our workforce, strengthened the Commonwealth’s economy, and nurtured a university that is ranked among the top 1 percent in the world.”

Economic development

Barron underscored the University’s role as an economic engine for the Commonwealth, sharing with legislators the success of the Invent Penn State initiative, focused on economic development statewide. The University recently announced four new seed grants totaling $200,000, to establish innovation hubs at Penn State’s Beaver, DuBois, Greater Allegheny and Hazleton campuses. Following this expansion, the program now has 21 innovation hubs, each designed to bolster entrepreneurship and economic development in communities surrounding Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth.

“As a comprehensive university, we have the capability to tackle problems that others do not. The Invent Penn State effort is the equivalent of economic and job-creation extension in Pennsylvania, and we’re seeing a lot of energy across the Commonwealth,” Barron said. “Every innovation hub allows the surrounding community, and Penn State students and faculty, in for free.”

Partnerships with business and industry also have emerged as a result of the effort, including a recently announced $1 million grant from PNC Bank to support Invent Penn State. In addition, a $10 million donor-advised investment fund will provide seed and early-stage venture capital to companies with connections to Penn State -- including startups launched by Penn State alumni, students and faculty. Known as the 1855 Capital Fund,  the company is privately owned and operated, and is not affiliated with Penn State.

Similarly, the University’s Fund for Innovation has supported nearly 50 emerging Penn State technologies, resulting in seven new ventures.

The initiative, Barron said, is just one example of Penn State’s impact, educating more than 54,000 Pennsylvania resident students and conducting  $863 million in research in FY 2016-17.

State appropriation

In light of ongoing budgetary challenges faced this year by the Commonwealth, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed maintaining current funding levels for Penn State and other state-related universities. The proposal includes:

  • $230.4 million for Penn State’s education and general budget, which is used primarily to reduce the cost of tuition for Pennsylvania resident students;
  • $53.3 million for the University’s Agricultural Research and Extension operations, which serve citizens and the agricultural industry in all 67 Pennsylvania counties;
  • $13.4 million for the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine; and
  • $22 million for Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pa.

Access and affordability

Maintaining the access and affordability of a Penn State education, as well as the University’s world-class quality, continue to be top priorities for Penn State’s leadership

Barron told lawmakers that Penn State has worked to keep tuition increases flat or low for Pennsylvania resident undergraduates, despite rising costs. “This has been especially valuable to the 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.”

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 resources to help every student graduate on time.

“A well-ranked university is a land of opportunity for upward mobility,” Barron said. “Where we see the challenge is in ensuring those first-generation students complete their degrees, and complete them on time. We have seven programs that are designed purely to make sure that these students get to the goal line.”

Among Penn State’s targeted initiatives in this vein are the Pathway to Success Summer Start Program, a work-study-scholarship program designed to increase student retention; the Student Transition Experiences (STEP) program, whose focus is keeping students on schedule as they transition to the University Park campus from a Commonwealth Campus; and the establishment of a Financial Literacy and Wellness Center.

Barron pledged to continue to cut costs and find efficiencies at Penn State. The University has enacted nearly $404 million in cuts to recurring costs since 1992, including $21 million in cuts in the 2017-18 operating budget alone.

“We are mindful that the appropriation requires the General Assembly to make difficult choices, so we work hard to be responsible stewards of that funding,” said Barron. “This year, as in past years, Penn State’s most pressing financial challenges are largely out of our control: pension costs and rising health care premiums. The support of the Commonwealth is essential for helping us manage these costs, and continuing to provide a world-class education to the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

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 February 27, 2018