HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Budget season is up and running in Harrisburg and appropriations hearings are underway.
The four state-related universities, Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln, made their case on Tuesday for more funding next year as student debt is on everyone’s radar.
State-related universities are a quirky part of high education in Pennsylvania, as they aren’t state universities. Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple, and Lincoln universities all fall under this category.
The four school leaders came to the hearings asking for more money, but lawmakers had questions as well.
“You need to provide a living wage for your employees, in particular the adjunct faculty,” said Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny County).
Combined, the four schools got $600 million this fiscal year.
Specifically, Penn State received $269 million this current fiscal year, Pitt received $155 million, Temple received $158 million, and Lincoln received $15 million. Now, they are asking for a 7% increase, which Governor Josh Shapiro would give them according to his budget proposal.
The schools say getting students their degrees in four years is a top priority.
Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette County) asked the university leaders if they would, “commit to a tuition freeze if you receive the seven percent increase?”
All four said no.
“I think it’s really scary, it’s scary for a lot of students, it’s scary for a lot of parents whose children are, you know, they could see this college question right on the horizon,” said Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Philadelphia).
All of the leaders did, however, say they are working to help financially strapped students.
“We have doubled the number of students receiving financial aid, we’ve doubled the average amount of that aid,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.
“Every dollar that we get from the state is used to support students, in-state students in financial aid,” said Temple University President Jason Wingard. “We’re giving them more mental health resources because they’re taking time away from school to be able to deal with their pressures and their anxieties and then they’re coming back and that’s taking longer.”
“We have a tuition freeze when you enter freshman year. The tuition you had that year remains the tuition for four years. We believe that that’s very important in helping families to plan,” added Brenda Allen, President of Lincoln University.
Helping students start at community college and transfer would keep costs down, but that transition is not as easy as it should be.
“This is something we must to do. This is not a nice to do. It’s a must do. We are doing this, but it has to go much more than just, ‘Will the credits transfer,'” said Neeli Bendapudi, President of Penn State University.
It’s ok to ask for more money, but lawmakers like Thomas Kutz (R-Cumberland County), want schools to charge students less of it.
“The rising crisis that we face with student debt. You need ways not to come out with six figures of debt for a four-year degree and a job that doesn’t help cover your debt and a rent payment,” Kutz said.
One lawmaker asked Bendapudi about the human and financial costs of expanding the Big Ten to include USC and UCLA, which she voted in favor of.
“Frankly, I’m concerned about student-athletes bear brunt of new reality: flying to California, additional pressures on time out of class, away from campus,” said Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester County).
“Penn State is one of the few big-time athletics departments that is completely self-sustaining,” said Bendapudi.
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One lawmaker noted that state-related schools are exempt from the Right-To-Know law and that he couldn’t support additional funding if he was unable to get salary information from the schools.
And it’s not just academic issues; Wingard said he’s very concerned about what he calls a crisis of gun violence in Philadelphia, with his school right in the middle of it, scaring off potential students.