State: value higher education

The state gubernatorial candidates in this year’s midterm elections said education is a top priority, but no candidate has a comprehensive plan to address the problems plaguing higher education in Pennsylvania. 

The past 10 years weren’t kind to higher education — in 2011 former Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education funds across the state. He took away nearly 20 percent from the state’s funds to higher education.

Several problems are affecting Pennsylvania’s higher education system. Since 2010, enrollment at Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools, like West Chester, Shippensburg and Millersville universities, has dropped 18 percent. Plus, the population of traditional college-aged students is expected to decrease in all but 10 counties by 2030, according to a report by the RAND Corporation. Allegheny County, the state’s second most populous county behind Philadelphia, will have a less than 1 percent increase.

Only after several years of slight gains has Temple University come close to receiving the same funding it had before Corbett’s cuts. And now, our future is even shakier.

The state’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee commissioned the RAND Corporation to analyze and advise on the state’s education system. One of the report’s suggestions was to consolidate the schools in PASSHE under a state-related institution like Temple.

That’s assuming Temple and the other state-related schools are equipped to take on a combined enrollment of 107,000 students spread across 15 campuses. Maybe the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State could take on these schools; together they have more than $6.7 billion in their endowments. But Temple only has $620 million, and Lincoln University has $390 million in its endowment. 

But this solution would just delay the problem, not solve it, said Mark Price, the research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The real issue is costs are rising faster than people’s incomes, he added.

This is scary — and it should concern students as they head to the polls on Tuesday and after the elections are decided. 

Pennsylvania students graduate with an average $35,759 in student loan debt, the second-highest in the country, according to a report from CNBC.

If the future of higher education is shaky, that means our futures are shaky, and that’s unacceptable.

Pennsylvania lawmakers need to understand that students are the future, and lawmakers should act swiftly by finding viable solutions to issues with the state’s higher education system.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gillian McGoldrick, who reported on the state’s higher education problems for this issue, did not contribute to the writing or editing of this editorial. 

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