Leaders of Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities gathered in Harrisburg last Tuesday for a round of hearings with the state’s General Assembly, touting their schools’ benefits in hopes of receiving increased funding.
President Theobald, seated with presidents Eric Barron of Pennsylvania State University and Valerie Harrison of Lincoln University, along with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher of the University of Pittsburgh, answered legislators’ questions during more than three hours of hearings with the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The hearings come as legislators are working through Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, one aspect of which includes increased funding for public and state-related higher education institutions. In return for the increase in funding, Wolf said he expects the public universities to freeze tuition, with modest increases from others like Temple.
When asked by Sen. Andrew Dinniman – a Democrat with a district office based in West Chester – what each state-school’s plan for tuition rates was, Theobald said he anticipated an increase of “cost-of-living or lower,” meaning that it would be less than the rate of inflation.
Gallagher said Pitt students should expect a modest increase; Barron said a tuition freeze was likely for Penn State, and Harrison said next year’s returning students at Lincoln would see frozen tuition, though rates would rise for the incoming freshmen.
Sen. Patrick M. Browne, the Republican chair of the appropriations committee, noted that while all schools requested an increase in funding, Wolf’s budget allotted for more than the recommendation for two schools: Temple and Penn State.
Temple requested $146.9 million from the state, which is a $7 million or 5 percent increase compared to this year’s appropriation. The General Assembly was recommended an increase more than double Temple’s request; 11 percent, or $15.4 million. That would make Temple’s appropriation the highest dollar amount since 2009, before it was cut to its current level.
Penn State, whose appropriation is about $100 million more than Temple’s, requested a 13 percent increase. The General Assembly was recommended to increase its funding by 23 percent, Browne said. He asked what difference the additional dollars above the request could make.
“We would hold down tuition,” Theobald said. “I’m absolutely aligned at the hip with [Barron] on the focus of what our priorities are. Going beyond our request, that simply allows us to keep tuition down.”
Legislators, many of them Penn State alumni or with children attending the school, were eager to ask questions directly to Barron that covered a variety of issues. They ranged from a Penn State professor lighting a cigarette on an airplane last week to the on-campus speech of Bill Ayers – a co-founder of the controversial Weather Underground, known for its countercultural stance and participation in bombings during the 1970s. Several believed Ayers should not have been allowed on campus, though Barron contended that choice legally belonged to the students. Barron took the lead in answering several other questions as well.
When Theobald spoke, it was often about “Fly in 4,” the program implemented this year which offers scholarships to students in exchange for curbing their work schedule and mandates regular meetings with an adviser to stay on track for a four-year graduation.
He also discussed the “Temple Option,” which allows applying students to complete four short essays in lieu of submitting test scores.
In his opening statement, Theobald discussed Temple’s founding and economic impact. Citing statistics on the low percentage of poor students going to college, he compared that era to today.
“America is in danger of recreating the 19th-century economic caste system that spurred the founding of Temple College,” he said. “Temple is reinvigorating the ‘American Dream,’ where all students, regardless of the circumstances in which they are born, are given a fair chance to rise as high in life as their abilities will take them.”
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.204.7419 on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.