Higher Education

The General Assembly has begun working on the budget for 2018-19 based on Governor Wolf’s budget proposal. So, this is a good time to look at the governor’s proposals in light of the recent history of funding for education in our state.

Governor Wolf’s budget would finally restore (in nominal dollars) the deep cuts to K-12 classroom funding made by Governor Corbett in 2011-12, which is a noteworthy accomplishment. However, inadequate funding and deep inequities still remain in our school funding system. Also, Governor Wolf continues to prioritize early education funding. His proposal this year, if enacted, would nearly double Pre-K funding since 2014-15. A signature focus of Governor Wolf this year is a substantial investment in Career and Technical Education and workforce development, with the aim of providing high school and post-secondary youth with critical STEM and other technical skills that can lead to good paying jobs.

While the details are different, the basic theme of our analysis of the governor’s budget proposal this year is essentially unchanged from last year and the year before. Once again, Governor Wolf has presented another austere budget that, within the political limits of Harrisburg, makes progress on issues critical to Pennsylvanians. But because of those political limits – and through no fault of the governor – it does not make fast enough progress.

Three recent briefs by the Keystone Research Center laid out the case for more affordable access to post-secondary education in Pennsylvania.  The global race for raising incomes and increasing opportunity hinges critically on access to post-secondary education and training. If Pennsylvania does not expand access to higher education to more of its citizens, the Commonwealth’s economy will suffer and living standards will lag behind growth elsewhere. With a modest and smart investment, Pennsylvania can build a more prosperous future for its citizens and reinvigorate the American Dream in every corner of the keystone state. “The Pennsylvania Promise,” outlined below, shows how.

PBPC and Keystone Research Center's series of reports on the state of higher education in Pennsylvania, focusing on the lack of investment from the state resulting in new barriers to access for Pennsylvania students.

Pennsylvania’s public four-year colleges currently confront a funding and enrollment crisis, with three of the most distressed Universities in northern and western Pennsylvania regions that lack community colleges. This crisis presents Pennsylvania, and its state legislators: do they want to continue the policies of the past three decades, which have massively underfunded post-secondary education, particularly in rural Pennsylvania? Or do they want to use the crisis of the State System as a wake-up call – a reason to address the state’s post-secondary education deficit, and a vital step to avoiding a downward spiral for many of Pennsylvania’s rural areas? This brief argues that lawmakers should take the latter course. 

The 14 four-year universities within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education have been a pivotal engine of upward mobility for working families in Pennsylvania for decades. Today, the role of these schools in making the American Dream a reality for a hundred thousand Pennsylvanians each generation is threatened. Deep cuts in state funding coupled with living expenses on campus that have risen faster than tuition are threatening to put State System schools beyond the financial reach of many moderate-income families. 

As a group, the 14 schools that make up Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education (hereafter the State System) are among Pennsylvania’s great working-class colleges. Forty-one percent of State System students from 1999 to 2004 (far enough back that we can analyze how these students fare economically as adults in their thirties) came from families with incomes (pre-tax income at the household level) in the bottom 60% of households, those earning less than $73,500 a year (in 2015 dollars). By comparison, just 18% of the students from Pennsylvania’s 10 most elite private colleges during this period came from bottom 60% families. 

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