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Pres. testifies before House

Representatives from Pennsylvania’s four state-related schools testified Monday.

Three weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett proposed to flat-fund Pennsylvania’s 14 state and four state-related universities, President Neil Theobald and representatives from the three other state-related universities testified before the state House Appropriations Committee yesterday, Feb. 25.

Theobald spoke about the university’s need for commonwealth funding and what purpose it serves to Temple.

“Temple University realizes that most of our revenue comes from either a family or from a taxpayer,” Theobald said at the hearing. “Going forward, we are determined to be responsible stewards of the public dollars that Temple University is privileged to spend.”

Throughout the hearing Theobald – along with representatives from Lincoln University, Penn State and University of Pittsburgh – spoke about the importance of the commonwealth funding and its impact in keeping tuition low.

Specifically, Theobald cited the appropriation as the most important factor in curbing tuition for in-state students.

“[The appropriation] is the single most important factor in keeping tuition affordable for Pennsylvania students,” Theobald said. “Temple uses this funding to discount tuition for in-state undergraduate students by about $10,000 per student and reduce what Pennsylvania residents must borrow to earn a college degree.”

During Theobald’s time as president-elect, and his two-plus months in office, he has repeatedly named student debt as one of his top priorities. In recent interviews with The Temple News, Theobald has said the administration will pursue initiatives aimed at increasing student financial literacy and encouraging students to graduate in four years, which is something he concentrated on during the hearing.

Theobald also singled out living expenses during extended stays at college as a leading factor in driving up student debt.

“The majority of the debt that students take on is not tuition. The majority of the debt is living cost while in school,” Theobald said at the hearing. “If you stay [in school] six years, seven years, eight years, you’ve got those living costs for all that time. We’re very much focused on providing incentives to get into school, get a quality education…and graduate them in four or four and a half years.”

Senior Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Ken Lawrence reiterated in an interview after the hearing Theobald’s point that the most effective way to drive down student debt is to have students graduate in four years.

“When you’re taking five to six years to graduate, not only are you paying tuition for five to six years, but you’re also paying your living expenses and all the things associated with that,” Lawrence said. “A lot of students feel that, ‘Well, I’ll work part-time and pay for my classes as I go.’ Your part-time job isn’t going to pay you what a full-time position will once you have your degree.”

Theobald also said improving financial literacy amongst students and parents is among his top goals and said students can’t face fiscal issues in a manner similar that older generations did because of the current economic climate.

“Most of us learned these lessons the hard way in our 20s and 30s,” Theobald said. “The current economic reality does not allow for a real-life internship in budget literacy.”

Corbett proposed to flat-fund Temple, which would keep its appropriation at $139.9 million after two consecutive years in which he called for drastic cuts to Pennsylvania’s state-related schools.

Last year, Corbett called for a 30 percent cut to Temple’s funding, but the school’s funding ended up being level with that of the previous year. In his first budget address as governor, Corbett proposed to cut more than half of Temple’s commonwealth funding. Ultimately, the university saw a 19 percent cut, bringing Temple’s state funding from $172.7 million to $139.9 million, which it stands at today.

This year provided more support for higher-education funding than in the past two years, when college presidents were testifying under enormous cuts proposed by the governor, Lawrence said.

“What you saw from the hearing was a difference in the past two years, where the presidents were testifying with draconian cuts being proposed by the governor,” Lawrence said. “You saw today a lot of bipartisan support for higher education and the value that our universities bring to the commonwealth.”

Temple had requested a 3 percent increase in its appropriation for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Theobald will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Sean Carlin can be reached at sean.carlin@temple.edu or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84. 

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