President Barron addresses Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee

February 26, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Penn State President Eric Barron addressed the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 26, highlighting the University’s economic impact on the Commonwealth and its ability to drive job creation and business growth through innovation, while also emphasizing his commitment to keeping a Penn State education accessible and affordable for the next generation of Pennsylvania’s workforce.

Barron was joined at the Capitol for the hearing by the leaders of Pennsylvania’s other state-related institutions, including University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Temple University President Richard Englert, and Lincoln University President Brenda Allen. All four leaders stressed the importance of the Commonwealth’s investment in higher education to the quality of life of its citizens.

“Make no mistake, a Penn State degree makes a difference for those with the degree and for Pennsylvania’s economy,” Barron said in remarks to legislators. “In a National Bureau of Economic Research analysis of upward mobility, students from families in the lowest 20 percent of family income have only a 4 percent chance of entering the top 20 percent of family income by age 35 with only a high school diploma. In contrast, if they graduate from a highly selective public university, like Penn State, they have more than a 40 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent of family income by age 35. This type of upward mobility is life changing for the students from Pennsylvania’s working families.”

State appropriation

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2019-20 state budget calls for level funding of $327.4 million for Penn State for the upcoming academic year. This includes $237.3 million for Penn State’s general support appropriation, which is used primarily to offer an in-state tuition rate for Pennsylvania resident undergraduates.

Penn State is requesting a total appropriation of $347 million for 2019-20, representing a 6 percent overall increase, which would allow the University to limit any tuition increase for Pennsylvania resident students to only the amount necessary to fund the capital plan approved by the Penn State Board of Trustees in September 2017.

“At our Commonwealth Campuses, 82 percent of the students are Pennsylvania residents, and 37 percent are the first in their families to attend college,” said Barron. “Notably, Penn State campuses serve Pennsylvania’s families of modest means, with the median income at our Commonwealth Campuses hovering at or below Pennsylvania’s median income, with some significantly below. Penn State’s differential tuition structure and the state appropriation makes higher education possible in Pennsylvania’s economically challenged communities.”

“Access and affordability is our top priority, and I can’t overstate the importance of the appropriation for achieving that end. It has enabled countless students to pursue their dreams with less debt and more time to engage in meaningful and productive activities like internships, leadership opportunities, and service work.”

— Penn State President Eric Barron

Penn State’s proposed appropriation also includes $22.7 million for Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn State with a focus on applied technology education; $13.4 million for Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; and $53.9 million for Penn State Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, which helps the agriculture industry, individuals and communities to solve problems in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

“Penn State faculty, students, staff and alumni are helping to protect crops from invasive insects like the spotted lanternfly. They are fighting the opioid crisis that is disproportionately affecting our rural communities. They are promoting ag safety and health, and developing the next generation of farmers and scientists through 4-H. Penn State Extension is the backbone of our ability to translate scientific research into real-world applications. The appropriation is crucial for enabling Penn State to continue this important work,” Barron said.

Economic impact

Barron underscored Penn State’s importance as an economic powerhouse for the Commonwealth, contributing more than $11.6 billion to the state’s economy and supporting, both directly and indirectly, more than 105,00 jobs across Pennsylvania in fiscal year 2017, according to a recent study. In addition, for every $1 in state appropriations received by Penn State, the University returns $1.24 in tax payments to the Commonwealth.

The study also found that Penn State’s 24 campus locations spread the University’s economic contributions into communities in all corners of Pennsylvania, in a way that is unmatched by any other university in the Commonwealth. Outside of University Park and Penn State Health, Penn State’s locations across Pennsylvania combined for more than $2 billion in total economic contributions, with most of those impacts coming in the county in which each campus is situated.

“By any measure, Penn State is a powerful economic engine for Pennsylvania, contributing billions of dollars each year to the economy in communities across the Commonwealth, educating more than 98,000 students annually, and creating many thousands of jobs,” said Barron. “This study highlights the widespread nature of Penn State’s economic contributions. Our University, with 24 locations across the Commonwealth, an academic medical center and a growing health system, is an engine that drives the economy and improves lives in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.”

Barron emphasized the importance of the Invent Penn State initiative in helping to spur economic development and job creation in Pennsylvania. Invent Penn State has spread statewide to create 21 dynamic hubs at Penn State Commonwealth Campuses and surrounding communities, resulting, since 2016, in 1,792 entrepreneurs assisted; 5,049 faculty, students and staff engaged; 170 new product development projects; 45 new companies in Pennsylvania communities; 107 jobs and 317 internships created; and $4.5 million in external matched/leveraged funds.

“We believe there is great potential for even further collaboration between Penn State and the Commonwealth to promote Pennsylvania to employers large and small,” said Barron. “Together, we believe we can meet the needs of employers, supply them with a prepared workforce, support their business needs with world-class research, and enable them to engage with a community that fosters innovation and technology. Penn State has the capability, the will, and the mission to promote our great state as a destination for employers.”

Access and affordability

Barron pointed out that three of the past four Pennsylvania budgets have included important increases to Penn State’s funding, which has enabled the University to keep in-state undergraduate tuition rates flat — across the board — in two of the three years that state support increased. Penn State also has not raised tuition at eight Commonwealth Campuses — Beaver, DuBois, Fayette, Greater Allegheny, Mont Alto, New Kensington, Shenango and Wilkes-Barre — for the past four years.

Penn State ranks No. 5 among all state flagship universities for the smallest overall increase in in-state tuition over the last 10 years, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education 2018 Almanac, and tuition increases across Penn State’s campuses have been below national averages for more than a decade.

“Access and affordability is our top priority, and I can’t overstate the importance of the appropriation for achieving that end,” Barron said. “It has enabled countless students to pursue their dreams with less debt and more time to engage in meaningful and productive activities like internships, leadership opportunities, and service work.”

In addition to containing tuition costs, Penn State has focused on other factors that contribute to the total cost of a degree, such as decreasing the rate of student borrowing, reducing attrition due to financial challenges, and providing resources to help students graduate on time. These efforts have had a significant impact on student borrowing in particular, Barron said, with average student debt down approximately $2,400 per undergraduate student at the Commonwealth Campuses and $500 per undergraduate at University Park, between 2015-16 and 2017-18.  

Among the programs underway to help keep a Penn State education accessible and affordable are the Pathway to Success: Summer Start program, which provides students with a scholarship to take summer classes while earning additional money through on-campus employment; the Student Transitional Experiences Program, which offers financial, mentoring and networking support for students transitioning to University Park from a Commonwealth Campus; the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center, which provides no-cost financial counseling and financial literacy programming; the Raise.me micro-scholarship program, a partnership with 24 urban and rural high schools in Pennsylvania where students interested in attending Penn State can earn up to $16,000 in scholarship support over four years; and Complete Penn State, which is designed to help students with high GPAs and credit counts overcome struggles so they can complete their degrees.

Barron pledged Penn State’s continued good stewardship of the state’s dollars, and said the University would continue to identify cost savings in the University’s operating budget for the coming fiscal year. Penn State has enacted $440.3 million in cuts to recurring costs since 1992, including $36.5 million in the 2018-19 budget alone. These measures have helped the University to meet rising expenses, while keeping tuition increases low or flat for students.

“We value our historic partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the role it has played in building an educated workforce, economic prosperity, and a university that is ranked in the top 1 percent in the world,” said Barron. “Record numbers of students are applying to Penn State; our research enterprise topped a record $927 million last year; and our students continue to humble us with their commitment to service, including THON, the largest student philanthropy in the world, which this year raised $10.6 million to fight pediatric cancer. We are proud of these metrics, but we know we can do even more for the families and communities in our extraordinary state.”

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 28, 2019