Another proposed cut to Temple’s funding leaves its future as an accessible, public school in question.
If one travels to Harrisburg, they’ll find a familiar name carved on the frieze of the Pennsylvania department of education headquarters: Russell Conwell. But continued slashes to commonwealth appropriations have reminded Temple time and time again that its state support is far from set in stone.
When Gov. Tom Corbett gave his budget address on Feb. 7, his proposal for another 30 percent, or more than $40 million, cut to Temple left some questioning the feasibility of the university’s commitment to public education.
As financial state support continues to decline, and the university relies more heavily on tuition dollars for revenue, privatization seems to be a viable option for Temple. But administrators appear adamant in keeping Temple public.
BY THE NUMBERS
In 1965, Temple was designated a state-related university under the Commonwealth System for Higher Education. As a result, the university receives an appropriation each year, for the sake of providing affordable access to Pennsylvania residents. But with a struggling economy, the state has continued to decrease its support.
At the beginning of the academic year, the university requested $144.1 million for fiscal year 2012-13, a 3 percent increase in state appropriations.
Last week, Corbett’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year outlined a near $42 million cut to Temple’s funding.
The story is a familiar one for Temple.
In October 2010, for the 2011-12 fiscal year, Temple requested approximately $189 million, a 6.4 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. Corbett proposed a 50 percent decrease. By the time the state finalized its budget, Temple and the other state-related universities – Penn State, Lincoln University and University of Pittsburgh – were left with a 19 percent decrease.
This cut was worsened in January when, due to low state revenues, 5 percent of Temple’s $139.9 million appropriation was cut by Corbett.
“The governor called it a freeze, but essentially it’s a cut in the sense that we’ve been told that it’s very likely that $7 million or approximately 5 percent of the state’s appropriation would not be forthcoming and that would actually be withheld,” Anthony Wagner, executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, said.
The ratio of commonwealth dollars to tuition dollars has shifted dramatically during the years.
In 1972-73, state appropriations made up roughly 60 percent of Temple’s general revenues and more than 30 percent tuition dollars.
About 40 years later, in fiscal year 2011-12, state appropriations accounted for approximately 13 percent of the university’s general revenues, while increasing tuition made up approximately 60 percent.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on states to prioritize higher education in their budgets – and on colleges to keep tuition rates down.
According to Grapevine, an Illinois State University publication that reports on state tax support for higher education, Pennsylvania ranked No. 45 out of all states for state appropriations per capita in fiscal year 2010.
MAKING A CASE
Dr. Erin McNamara Horvat, a professor in the College of Education with expertise in higher education, said it’s hard for higher education institutions to make a case for appropriations when funding for primary education is also tight.
But Temple Student Government and the university’s government outreach arm, Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network, continue to bring their cause to the capitol.
Wagner said the almost $43 million cut proposed for 2012-13, if passed, would near a 50 percent cut when combined with the 19 percent cut for 2011-12.
“It’s a substantial proposal, a substantial cut for the governor to propose and we’re just at the beginning of understanding what it could possibly mean,” Wagner said.
The university often credits lobbying and student interaction with state officials as crucial in decreasing last year’s proposed 50 percent cut to the approved 19 percent.
“We were successful in getting that 50 percent cut pared back in large part because of our students,” Wagner said. “Temple students are passionate and they did a great job of working with other college students from around the state especially the state-related universities to go to Harrisburg and to really advocate for the university.”
Last year’s 19 percent reduction in state appropriations resulted in a $1,172 and $1,170 increases in tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, respectively. In addition, the university reduced its operating budget by nearly $36 million.
But faculty have questioned whether or not that’s enough.
A $94.2 million surplus, including the university’s health system and federal stimulus dollars, was recorded in fiscal year 2010-11. About $80 million was from Temple’s operating budget.
In Temple’s Faculty Herald, Phil Yannella, professor of English and American studies, questioned raising tuition rather than decreasing its surplus.
Kenneth Kaiser, associate vice president of the office of management and budget, told The Temple News that some surplus money goes back to individual schools.
“At the beginning of the year, it looked like we were going to take a 50 percent cut on our appropriation, which got called back down to 19 percent, so schools and colleges had prepared their budgets with a spending plan with a much more significant decrease in state funding in mind and therefore were able to save additional dollars,” Kaiser said.
“We didn’t want recurring expenses like salaries and health benefits reliant on a source of funding that is going to dry up in two or three years,” he added.
Wagner said the university “will be able to draw upon that operating margin to help not pass that cut onto the students for next year.”
“I would anticipate that the smoothing that will happen from last year to this year [will] help us keep a tuition increase at a reasonable level and not have to cut the schools and colleges’ in draconian ways,” Wagner added.
This year, the university expects to have a $30 million operating margin, Wagner said.
If Temple was to privatize, some say the university would have a more consistent budget, the freedom to raise and maintain tuition rates, which could be offset with financial aid.
“Sometimes I think, ‘You know, without the state meddling in our affairs, we could have more consistent budgets, we would know what’s happening with our money,’” Horvat said.
“One of the things that you have to deal with when you’re funded by the state is uncertainty,” Horvat added. “There’s a lot of politicking. You’re beholden to those people, and that takes effort and energy. And the uncertainty is not helpful in trying to run a strong organization.”
But Horvat said public universities are crucial in investing in the county’s youth, for the future.
That’s why, Wagner said, Temple is committed to its partnership with Pennsylvania.
“With respect to the commonwealth, we’re an important part of the economy, we employ a lot of people. Even more importantly a lot of students have gotten their educations here and have gone out to be amazingly productive citizens in all walks of life,” Wagner said. “First and foremost, we want to try to preserve that partnership. Temple is certainly not at this point contemplating becoming private.”
With a seemingly perpetual decline in state appropriations, though, the ultimate decision to privatize may not be Temple’s to make. State financial support is contingent upon government administration, its priorities and adequate revenues.
Some note the advantages private institutions have over public ones.
Horvat said private schools have the freedom to act independently to conduct and fund research and projects.
However, Saltry said, privatization can sacrifice a university’s commitment to accessibility to the masses.
“Private schools on the average tend to be a lot more expensive than public schools,” Saltry said. “You’d have a vastly different student population. I think that affordability and diversity go hand and hand.”
Horvat said that Temple’s devotion to remaining public lies within its mission statement and its pledged accessibility to excellence.
Referencing Conwell’s founding of the university, Horvat added, “If you think about Temple’s mission…we started in a church basement for people that couldn’t go to school during the day.”
Sean Carlin and Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.