Leaders of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities voted Thursday to approve a state appropriation request of $429.2 million for fiscal year 2014-15, a 4 percent increase over this year’s sum to operate campuses with 112,500 students.
The State System of Higher Education’s board of governors also agreed as part of the request to seek an $18 million special line item in next year’s budget to fund new or expanded academic programs that advance Pennsylvania’s workforce and other needs.
State System Chancellor Frank Brogan, saying the climate this year will continue to be difficult for obtaining additional state funding, advocated targeted requests to the legislature and governor accompanied by statements of both need and expected outcomes.
He characterized it as a desirable alternative to “just saying ‘how about some more money?’”
The appropriation request does not specify a potential tuition increase for next fall, though the board and administration have discussed tying it in some way to the Consumer Price Index, which of late has been approximately 3 percent, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said.
The board took no action on a potentially controversial matter: Implementing a new weapons policy across the 14 schools.
On Wednesday, Brogan recommended that additional input from the campuses and public be sought, including an unspecified number of information-gathering sessions across the state.
He suggested the start of fall 2014 classes for implementation, assuming a policy document is ready for a vote up or down in January.
There were reminders during the morning-long meeting of the system’s financial woes that to date have led to announced program cuts and jobs reductions at Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield universities, including layoffs of about 100 professors.
Board Chairman Guido Pichini said “even ‘transformational’ would be an understatement” as he described the shift in resources necessitated by a recent 18 percent cut in the system’s state appropriation, three consecutive years of enrollment losses and rising campus costs in a sluggish economy.
Speaking in the public comment portion of the meeting, Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, told the board it would be wrong to lay blame for the system’s problems on faculty pay and benefits.
He cited his union’s research showing that as a percentage of university budgets, faculty compensation at 10 of the 14 schools has declined in recent years.
He said a drag on the system’s campus budgets is the escalating debt obligation tied to campus borrowing for building and other projects that “has grown by as much as 250 percent” since the campus undertook major upgrades starting in the 1990s.