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Commentary: Pa. Budget Failure Puts Flagship Universities At Risk

Eric Barron
Ralph Wilson, File
AP Photo

As leaders of Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities, we are calling for quick and decisive action to address the commonwealth’s failure to fund our schools.

Most Pennsylvanians are aware of the state’s continuing budget impasse. What many citizens may not realize is that four of our state’s most vibrant universities—Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln—receive funds via appropriation bills that exist outside of the state’s broader general budget. And now, our stand-alone appropriation bills have become the latest bargaining chip in a protracted political fight.

For many decades, and through several budget crises, the financial commitment of the state government and the taxpayers has built institutions to educate our youth, conduct life-changing research while bringing billions of dollars into the state, and operate numerous outreach programs that impact millions of Pennsylvanians and add immeasurable value to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth.

But eight months into this fiscal year, our schools still have not received any funding from the state – a hardship with serious impacts – and we are now facing the very real prospect of receiving zero dollars for the entire year, which translates to a combined $600 million budget gap.

It is not for us to assign blame for this unprecedented situation, but instead to focus on the consequences if the state budget impasse is not soon resolved.

Even though state support for our institutions is at its lowest level since 1995, it still enables us to offer access to a high quality education for more than 110,000 Pennsylvania students at a substantial discount to our costs and in many underserved locations throughout the state.  Without those funds, our universities would be forced to replace nearly $600 million from other sources.  It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the impact on our students. 

We have managed this crisis as strategically and conscientiously as we can. Year after year, our universities have exacted an array of cost-cutting measures to keep the cost of a college education within reach of working families while pushing to maintain the academic excellence that our students expect and deserve.

We will fail our students, employees and communities if our elected officials do not quickly reach a long term budget agreement that provides for funding for our universities. 

There are only two options here: Choose to invest in our future or continue to punish our students and employees while elected officials battle over unrelated issues.

To us—and the citizens of Pennsylvania—the solution is clear. 

Eric J. Barron is president of Penn State. Patrick Gallagher is chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. Neil Theobald is president of Temple University. Richard Green is president of Lincoln University.

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