OpEd: Governor’s Higher Education Budget Unfair and Misguided
Governor Wolf warned that this would be a tough budget year. We sympathize. Every year is a tough budget year at our institutions: we must enhance the quality of our students’ education, while controlling costs and reallocating limited resources. Fortunately, guiding this challenging work are two sacred principles: to increase student financial aid annually to ensure our schools remain places of opportunity for students with modest financial resources; to invest in improvements with maximum benefit for our students. In contrast, the Governor's budget contains no increase in need-based aid for students, and it cuts in half the minimal support for the 90 private colleges and universities that educate over 290,000 students annually, many of them recipients of state grants.
The Governor’s Budget proposes stable funding for higher education, with two exceptions. One exception is a modest increase in funding for the 14 state system schools. The second is a proposed new program for sexual assault prevention. The Governor proposes only one cut: a 50% reduction of the already modest support for schools like Albright and Alvernia that educate thousands of low and middle income Pennsylvania residents.
Established in 1974, the Commonwealth’s Institutional Assistance Grants provide small grants to private colleges and universities to recognize and support their vital role in educating needy students. This program has been cut so frequently in recent years that it is currently only 39% of what it was just 8 years ago. The new reduction would mean an additional cut annually of more than $220,000 for Albright and $255,000 for Alvernia.
Albright and Alvernia work hard to provide opportunity for Pennsylvania residents, and we are proud of, though never fully satisfied with, our efforts. But we are not wealthy schools with large endowments. Since both of our institutions already offer financial assistance to almost 100% of our students, at amounts far above the state grants, these new cuts will reduce the aid we can provide deserving and talented students from Berks County and throughout the state. And since both of our institutions serve significant numbers of first-generation and low income students, this cut will have an especially negative impact on exactly the students who should benefit most from limited state funds. (779 undergraduates at Albright and 813 at Alvernia receive these funds.)
At a time of limited funding, state support for higher education should place highest priority on supporting students and their families and enabling students to choose the college best suited to their academic interests and future goals. And Pennsylvania’s private colleges and universities are a great option. While 42% of all students enrolled at Pennsylvania colleges and universities attend private institutions, our schools provide almost 50% of the bachelor's degrees awarded in the Commonwealth (48% in 2016; 49% in 2015). And taxpayers get a great return on their investment: our schools achieve these results while receiving only 11% of higher education funding from the state!
How does it make sense to cut funding for schools that serve Pennsylvania families at a minimal cost to the taxpayer?
The Governor’s proposed cut is not only unfair. It is also misguided. We understand budget challenges! But this cut will hardly solve the state’s revenue shortfall. It doesn’t even come close. It will, however, adversely affect deserving students. Equally important is the message that this sends—that the Commonwealth doesn’t value the contributions of its 90 private colleges and universities to the people of this state.
We urge our local representatives in both parties to seek a wise and just allocation of state resources. And we urge them and the Governor always to place students first!
Co-authored by Albright President Lex McMillan and Alvernia President Thomas F. Flynn
The Office of the President Staff
Assistant to the President
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