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Amid State Funding Cuts, LHU Makes Changes

Marissa May holding a coffee cup. She is a senior health sciences major and one of the last dance minors able to complete her coursework after the minor was cut recently.
Sarah Paez

As state universities in Pennsylvania struggle with decreases in enrollment and state funding, we took a look at a state university located in the WPSU listening area. WPSU intern Sarah Paez visited Lock Haven University to see the changes the university has implemented and where faculty and students are affected the most.

Lock Haven University, one of 14 funded by the state, is a force of social mobility for many of its students.

But Pennsylvania now spends a third less per student than in 2008. That’s a net decrease of $2,533 per student.

Support has climbed in the last couple years, but is nowhere near pre-recession levels.

Brooke Yeager, a senior psychology major at Lock Haven, said she notices the tuition increase.

“I come from family that we’ve struggled with money for half of our lives,” she said. “And I’m paying for college all by myself and so even a couple thousand dollars going up, it really affects me.”

Students at state universities in Pennsylvania now shoulder 70 percent of the cost of tuition.

That’s not to be confused with state-related universities like Penn State, Pittsburgh and Temple.

John Hinshaw, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said decreased state funding is part of a large-scale cost shift in higher education onto the individual.

“Up from the 1940s to the 1970s, education was seen as a public good, and because it was a public good, it was funded as such,” he said. “And so since the Reagan administration there’s been a push to basically see this as a private good.”

In 2011, the state cut appropriations by 18 percent.

“Our facilities budget statewide was cut in half. And it has not gone back to the level that it was at that time,” said Communications Professor Matthew Girton.

Girton is president of the Lock Haven chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, or APSCUF. He participated in the October 2016 statewide faculty union strike over proposed pay and benefit cuts that stemmed from a lack of state funding.

He said Lock Haven has gone through a process of attrition, not filling open positions when faculty retire or leave.

There are around 70 fewer faculty than there were seven years ago.

“There’s a tipping point,” he said. “And eventually if you lose enough faculty it starts to affect the programs, the curriculum, the ability of the faculty to do the amount of service that they need to do because you’re putting more work on fewer people.”

In addition to attrition, Lock Haven has had to cut programs. Yeager said she has observed this firsthand.

“Definitely something that I’ve noticed is clubs are just getting chopped away for their budget, students are paying more out of pocket for almost everything. Going to national conferences isn’t even an option for half of these students anymore,” she said.

Lock Haven cut the theatre major last year, the indoor track team last spring and most recently the dance minor. Marissa May, a senior, was one of the last dance minors before the program was cut.

“So if people are coming here, with the hopes of maybe becoming dance therapists, they just had everything taken away from them,” said May. “And it’s awful. So no, I would not have considered Lock Haven if they didn’t have a dance program because that’s…that was one of my criteria.”

She said the administration has been uneven in the distribution of resources.

“So basically just visual and performing arts, just losing everything,” she said. “But in the contrast, we had our science center built, we are upgrading our athletic departments, and it’s just…we see where the priorities are. And it sucks because students have to witness it happening and then we feel powerless if we can’t do anything about it.”

Psychology professor Mark Cloud, a former president of the Lock Haven faculty union, said the university has also thinned out general requirements. He said it makes things more flexible for students but skirts arts and humanities classes.

Before, he said, they had to take courses in American national government, for example.

“But now, they graduate from college without having any government courses,” he said. “And if we try and narrow it down, ‘hey let’s get rid of all those general education classes we’re gonna teach you to do nothing but teach Spanish literature that’s all you’re going to do,’ and if that, then I think we’ve really failed.”

The Lock Haven University administration declined an interview for this story.

But in a September address to the Clinton County Economic Partnership reported on by the Lock Haven Express, LHU president Michael Fiorentino, Jr. said today’s university students want pre-professional degree options rather than those in the arts and humanities.

For example, Lock Haven’s Physician Assistant graduate program is ranked 57th nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

Fiorentino said Lock Haven was in a much better place financially than most state universities and did not foresee making any major changes.

But he did say the university is doing a sweeping academic review.

Correction: It is the Physician Assistant program. We originally called it the Physician's Assistant program. 

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