RELEASE: Pennsylvania Cuts to Higher Education Among Worst in Country

[HARRISBURG, PA] – Years of reduced investment by Pennsylvania in higher education have helped drive up tuition, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success and that is essential to a growing economy.

Pennsylvania has cut funding for higher education by 33.3% since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, a decrease of $2,234 per student, according to Funding Down, Tuition Up: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

As the state has slashed higher education funding, the price of attending public colleges has risen considerably. The average tuition at four-year public colleges in Pennsylvania has risen by $2,202, or almost 20%, since the 2007-08 academic year— significantly faster than the growth in median income. For the average student, federal and state aid has not kept pace with rising costs, the report found. 

“More young people could afford college and gain for themselves and the economy the benefits of greater earnings if states reversed their declining support for higher education,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP and lead author of the report.

Rapidly rising tuition at a time of weak or declining income growth has damaging consequences for families, students, and the state economy. Higher tuition jeopardizes the ability of many young people to afford the college education that is key to their long term wellbeing. This problem is especially significant for low-income students and students of color, and hurts campus diversity in public colleges.

“It’s important to note that Pennsylvania is one of the states the can lease afford these continued cuts to higher education funding,” said Marc Stier, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC). “Massive underinvestment in higher education compromises long-term economic growth and opportunity across Pennsylvania.” 

A 2014 report released by PBPC made the case for the importance of increased funding for higher education in Pennsylvania. The report highlighted decreased state investment, high tuition, high student levels debt for Pennsylvanians, and a low share of adults with more than a high-school education in the state.

Getting a college degree is increasingly important for professional success and entry into the middle class or beyond. A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers. And, communities benefit when more residents have college degrees. Areas with highly educated residents attract employers who pay higher wages. Those employees, in turn, use their wages to buy goods and services from others in the community, boosting the area’s economy and increasing the wages of workers at all levels of education, according to the report.

“College-educated workers are essential to our economic success,” said Stier “Pennsylvania must invest now in its colleges and universities now to build the workforce needed to compete in decades to come.”

  • Pennsylvania ranks poorly in terms of the percentage of adults with college degrees, especially with regard to community college degrees. In 2013, only 56.1% of Pennsylvania adults 25 and older had more than a high school degree, ranking 41st out of 50 states.
  • At the same time, the wage gap between those with a bachelors degree and those with less education has doubled since 1979 in Pennsylvania.
  • In 1984, state funding paid for 62% of costs for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and tuition paid for 38% of costs; by 2008, state funding accounted for only 38% of costs, with 62% coming from tuition and fees. Today, tuition and fees accounts for nearly 72% of PASSHE funding.
  • Pennsylvania ranks fourth from the bottom nationally in per capita spending on higher education – spending on the PASSHE, community colleges, state-related institutions and private colleges was $250 in 2014, which is half the national average of $500 per capita. 

Many states, over the years, have instituted tax cuts that have left them without the resources to adequately support public colleges and universities.  Rather than boosting economic growth, these policies could hurt the future economy, in part by reducing college attendance and making college harder to afford.

“States face a choice of whether to provide tax breaks for powerful interests or return to making a strong investment in higher education and the future workforce,” said Mitchell.




Funding Down, Tuition Up: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, by Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, and Kathleen Masterson, is available on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website here.