Hopefully, Wolf’s state budget proposal will make up for losses

A $15 million increase would allow the university to make up some of its losses from the recession.

Following 2008, a number of cuts – at both the state and federal level – hampered the country’s recovery. And in the last year or so, as states have begun to assess many declining and stagnant budgets, there seem to be a several states, like Pennsylvania, that are beginning to roll back on the cuts that followed the recession for a few years.

In an announcement earlier this month, President Theobald opined that Gov. Tom Wolf’s new proposal to increase Temple’s budget for the first time in four years by more than $15 million would usher in a new relationship with the new administration. Temple, for the first time in years, would be appropriated $155 million. On March 24, in front of the state’s General Assembly, Theobald added that, if the proposal comes to fruition, the university’s tuition would be “held to the rate of inflation or lower,” The Temple News previously reported this month.

As the university administration and students reel from state-wide budget cuts from 2011, the proposal arrives at just the right time. Four years ago, then-Gov. Tom Corbett signed a budget that reduced funding for state-related educational institutions, like Temple. In response, the university raised tuition about 10 percent for state residents.

Today, Wolf’s proposal comes as part of his larger plan, which is, according to PennLive, to increase total higher education funding by nearly 10 percent, a far cry from what was seen under the former governor.

According to the governor’s 2015-2016 proposed budget introduced on March 3, higher education in general will thankfully see a large increase in funding. Compared to the 2014-15 budget, community colleges expect to see increase of $15 million, state universities, an increase of over $46 million – Penn State will receive about $50 million – and state-related universities like Temple and University of Pittsburgh will have increased $15 million each.

The budget proposal not only reenergizes the ever-fluctuating dynamic between the Commonwealth and Temple, but also between the state’s higher education system as a whole. Under the previous administration, for many students, annual tuition increases were utterly intractable.

However, the budget proposal’s plan for Temple does not provide an increase in funds, per se. As the old axiom goes, everything is relative. Even though some local newspapers have been hailing the budget, the situation is a bit more opaque.

Temple’s vice president, CFO, and treasurer, Ken Kaiser, stressed an important detail when explaining Temple’s situation:

“This is not an increase in Temple’s state funding; it’s simply a restoration of prior cuts,” he said.

Offering an analogy, Kaiser said, “Let’s say you got a job and made $50,000 and your boss says, ‘We’ll cut your salary,’ and you now make $40,000. The following year, ‘you’ll get $50,000’ he said.

Kaiser said that in 2011, Temple’s “general support” state funding totaled to $172.7 million; in this fiscal year, it was $139.9 million.  He says that the governor’s proposal, while appreciated, only restores about 50 percent of where we were in  2011.

Kaiser mentioned that the university dealt with these issues by cutting its budget about $113 million to compensate for gaps between the state budget cuts and tuition and any revenue from new programs.

As such, Wolf’s proposal does not elide the need for a more structured and organized response to higher education funding. Hopefully the budget proposal is more than just an ordinary budget proposal – it has to draw attention to the larger problem. The Commonwealth’s predicament is a signal; in fact, it is a microcosm of a larger and more disturbing trend that has been persisting for some time now.

According to Washington-based think tank the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a whopping 48 states continue to spend to less on students than they did in 2008 – prior to the Great Recession.

Pennsylvania, in particular, was one of 11 states that spent over 30 percent less in 2014 than pre-recession levels in 2008.

In many regards, the university’s progress is predicated upon funding – without it, progress will be impeded.

“Despite Temple’s forward momentum, one noticeable effect of cuts is that faculty hiring and new initiatives suffer,” Douglas Webber, an assistant professor of economics, said in an email.

“One difficulty that is often overlooked is that of long-term planning.  With state appropriations fluctuating so much over the past few years, it makes it very difficult for the highest levels of administration to plan five to 10 years down the road.

He added that President Theobald has some good ideas that will move Temple forward, like Fly in 4, but the initiatives won’t be able to move forward with confidence under uncertainty about the budget.

The governor’s budget proposal has brought attention to the glaring discrepancies between higher education funding today and that of 2008. In his speech earlier this month, Gov. Wolf said now is the time to make a “historic commitment” to education. By building upon this budget and discussing the implications of more funding for higher education, we will be more prepared to fulfill this commitment.

The recent budget proposal will be a harbinger of further policy changes and can reverse the dismal post-recession drifts and ensure progress at Temple. Let’s resolve to make that commitment a reality.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at romsin.mcquade@temple.edu.

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