Penn State president addresses Pa. Senate, House appropriations committees

March 03, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Penn State’s focus on driving economic development in Pennsylvania and its ongoing work to provide pathways for success for students from across the commonwealth were among the topics discussed during annual appropriations hearings with Pennsylvania legislators on March 3. Barron and the leaders of Pennsylvania’s other three state-related universities also discussed steps their universities are taking in response to the global coronavirus outbreak.

Appropriation

Each year, appropriations from the commonwealth play a critical role for Pennsylvania students and residents, Barron said. The state’s general support appropriation helps to offset the cost of tuition for Pennsylvania residents and supplements the University’s efforts to improve access to, and affordability of, a top-flight Penn State education.

State appropriations also support the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Penn State Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, which helps the agriculture industry, individuals and communities to solve problems in all 67 Pennsylvania counties; and Pennsylvania College of Technology, which specializes in applied technology education.

The state budget process is still underway, and Barron expressed hope that a recent trend of modest annual increases from the state would continue, for the benefit of Pennsylvania residents. In four of the past five years, the state’s final budget has included increases for Penn State. Barron said these increases, paired with a continued commitment to cost cutting and cost avoidance at the University, have helped Penn State to hold the line on tuition. In fact, in-state tuition has remained flat in three of the past five years, and Penn State ranks among the top flagship universities in the country for the smallest overall increase in in-state tuition over the last decade, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education's 2018 Almanac.

“The last five years are a great example of the importance of our partnership with the legislature and governor,” Barron said. “As a result of these recent increases from the state, most of our students are paying less today than they paid five years ago when adjusted for inflation. It is our aim to continue this trend and to support all of our students, including more than 54,000 Pennsylvanians, to reduce the total cost of a Penn State degree.”

Penn State has requested a total appropriation of $359.8 million in 2020-21, representing a 6.7 percent requested increase over last year’s $337.2 million figure, to be used to defray student costs and advance Penn State as one of the world’s elite universities. At the same time, Barron told legislators that his administration, and the university’s board of trustees, has committed to targeting $150 million in savings and cost avoidance over three years.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2020-21 state budget calls for total appropriations to Penn State of $339.5 million. This includes proposed level funding for: Penn State’s general support appropriation, at $242.1 million; Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, at $13.4 million; Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, at $54.96 million; Pennsylvania College of Technology, at $26.7 million. In January, Wolf proposed a $2.35 million increase in funding targeted to Invent Penn State, in support of expanded economic development and entrepreneurship programming in locations statewide.

Access and affordability

Barron stressed that tuition is not the only factor important to the total cost of a degree. Barron recently introduced Achieve Penn State, an initiative that brings together a number of existing programs designed to help students reduce the overall cost of a Penn State degree.

“Over the past three years and with support of the Penn State Board of Trustees, we have intensified our efforts related to access and affordability,” Barron said. “We look at access and affordability very broadly, and have a set of programs focused on helping our students succeed, from enrollment through graduation. We remain committed to helping our students to reach their full potential and achieve their goals regardless of their financial circumstances.”

Programs under the Achieve Penn State umbrella support students and families through institutional scholarships, summer school and on-campus employment, a focus on financial literacy, programs to provide smooth transitions among Penn State’s 24 campus locations, and counseling and support for students facing unexpected hardships. Ultimately, Barron said, the goal is to help students to graduate on time, decrease the rate of student borrowing, and promote the success of need-based students.

Barron also has formed a task force to examine the challenge of food and housing insecurity among students. This and all Achieve Penn State programs, he said, are focused on helping students to make it across the finish line, even in the face of challenges.

Barron also highlighted One Penn State 2025, a strategic initiative focused on eliminating barriers to, and enhancing, life-long learning. “We want to have every student maintain an ongoing learning relationship with Penn State. Over time people will have multiple careers and changing educational needs. In the future, we want to make it simple for our students to come back to us and choose the educational path that will be most useful to them, without the need to reapply.”

Penn State’s economic impact

Barron also discussed the critical nature of Penn State’s work to drive economic development across the commonwealth, with Invent Penn State at the core of these efforts. As part of the program, introduced in 2015, Penn State has launched 21 innovation hubs in campus communities across Pennsylvania. Thus far, the program has assisted more than 2,500 entrepreneurs with early-stage startup businesses; has engaged thousands of faculty, students and staff; has generated millions of dollars in external investment; and has created hundreds of jobs and internships.

“We’ve set Penn State on a course that focuses on economic development in communities across the state,” Barron told legislators. “With 21 locations statewide, we have an innovation hub within 30 miles of 96 percent of Pennsylvanians. We want to attract student entrepreneurs, provide resources and know-how for community members to start small businesses, and to attract high-tech corporations.”

Gov. Wolf’s proposed $2.35 million in additional support for invent Penn State, if approved by the legislature, will be used to match the University’s current annual investment in Invent Penn State, and would enable the University to expand its entrepreneurship programming and pilot new innovation hubs in underserved areas of the state.

Coronavirus

Barron told the members of the House and Senate appropriations committees that Penn State health and safety officials are closely monitoring developments in the face of a global outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus.

Barron reiterated that, although there are no known cases of the disease at Penn State at this time, University authorities continue to monitor the situation closely and are responding accordingly. Barron said on-campus health providers are inquiring about the travel history of every patient. Anyone with a fever, cough or sore throat is provided a mask regardless of travel history.

LEARN MORE: Visit this Penn State website for the latest information about how Penn State is responding to the overseas outbreak of coronavirus.

“The safety of our students, faculty, staff and community are of the utmost importance, and Penn State remains vigilant in the face of this challenge,” Barron said. “We have restricted University-affiliated student travel to China, Italy and South Korea, and such travel for faculty and staff requires approval from University leadership. Penn State also has canceled spring break courses in both Italy and Japan.”

On Tuesday evening Penn State further announced the cancellation of all spring break travel abroad for embedded courses and student organizations.

A critical partnership                    

Barron reiterated the critical nature of Penn State’s partnership with the commonwealth, and the broad impacts it has on the people of Pennsylvania.

“Penn State and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been partners since our founding in 1855,” Barron said. “Together we have contributed to quality of life, economic development, agricultural productivity, medical advances and care, and leadership across myriad sectors of society. We look forward to continued partnership as we work to solve critical problems that affect all Pennsylvanians, the nation and the globe. An investment in Penn State is an investment in our economy; our current and future workforce; and in communities across the commonwealth.”

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 23, 2020