University leadership's plea to Penn Staters: write to legislators

State budget stalemate creates angst for Penn State and state-related universities, as effect on tuition is considered

University leaders are renewing their plea to Penn Staters and others, asking them to urge Pennsylvania legislators to release the University's state funds. Credit: L. Reidar Jensen / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The recent call by Penn State’s leadership for employees, students, parents, alumni and others to write to Pennsylvania legislators urging the release of the University’s state funds, now overdue by more than three months, is being repeated – this time in a more urgent tone.

Despite consistent appeals from Penn State officials seeking reassurances from Harrisburg that the University’s funding is secure, no positive responses have been conveyed from legislators negotiating the state budget package. For Penn State, a total appropriation of $318.2 million is in jeopardy.

TAKE ACTION: Follow this link to contact your state legislators.

“Commonwealth officials are at a stage in this budget impasse that could result in zero funding for Penn State and the other state-related universities in Pennsylvania,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “We are deeply concerned that this is not a temporary stall tactic. We fear it is a complete elimination of our $230.4 million general appropriation, as well as the $22 million needed by Penn College, and the $52.3 million that supports the statewide work of our Agricultural Research and Extension operations. Should this possibility become a reality, it would cause irreparable damage to not only the University, but the Commonwealth and its citizens as a whole.

“There are only two sources of funding for the educational mission of this University: tuition and our appropriation from the state. A gap in state funding this large cannot simply be absorbed and we would be forced to make even more dramatic cuts and raise tuition, perhaps even for the upcoming spring semester.”

On Sept. 29, Barron sent an email to faculty, staff, students and alumni, asking them to write to their state legislators to encourage them to finish the state budget and release Penn State’s much-needed funds. Penn State’s general appropriation is used to keep in-state tuition lower. A direct result of this state funding is $570 million in tuition savings to nearly 55,000 Pennsylvania resident students.

“We need everyone who has any connection to Penn State – those who benefit from our education and research; those who pay tuition; those who work at any campus; those who are served by our vast public outreach – to make your voice heard now in Harrisburg,” Barron said. “We are in a precarious situation that foreshadows untenable, and frankly alarming, funding challenges for our University.”

Barron is again urging faculty, staff and students, in particular, to contact state legislators and ask them to support Penn State's funding. By going to the link above, people will find a special page set up to send a message directly to legislators.

In considering how to cover what would be a major gap on the income side of the University’s already-set fiscal plan for the 2017-18 year, Penn State officials have been discussing various scenarios, including the “unthinkable” possibility that state funding would not be provided.

In the past, University officials have shown fiscal responsibility through various cost-saving measures and have proven to be good stewards of state funds, instituting a process of ongoing evaluation, accompanied by cost savings. Some of the steps taken have included salary freezes; creation of energy savings initiatives to lower utility costs; restructuring the University benefits programs and their financing to create savings; scaling back maintenance plans for facilities; curtailing travel; across-the-board budget cuts and rescissions; eliminating more than 650 courses; and reorganizing a number of units, including the College of Agricultural Sciences, among other strategies.

Through these efforts over the past several decades, Penn State has made $404 million in reductions to recurring costs since 1992. These cost-cutting measures have helped to reduce costs that would otherwise be borne by students through tuition increases, while ensuring the continued quality of Penn State’s academic programs.

Leaders at Penn State agree that zero funding from the state could not be absorbed through these types of actions alone. If legislators and the governor cannot come to an agreement on the state’s fiscal plan, University officials will need to decide within the next few weeks if a spring tuition surcharge will be required – an unprecedented move in the history of Penn State. One area that University Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones indicated is not being discussed is the closure of any campus.

“Penn State remains committed to its land-grant mission and serving the citizens of Pennsylvania through our unique campus structure. This is a priority,” Jones said. “Cuts come with consequences. We have continuously done what is necessary in the face of years of declining state support to maintain the services we provide to Pennsylvania and to retain the quality of a Penn State education. However, zero funding from the Commonwealth is an entirely different scenario. Pennsylvania, its residents, the University and our students, unfortunately, would not come away unscathed from such an action.”

Jones agreed that legislators must hear from those who work and learn at Penn State, as well as the many who benefit from the University’s numerous statewide services, seeking the commitment of the necessary funds that are invested as part of a 160-year public partnership with the Commonwealth.

Last Updated November 21, 2017