EDITORIAL BOARD MEMO: Higher Education Funding in Pennsylvania

To: Education reporters, editorial board members and columnists

From: Marc Stier, Director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center

Subject: Higher Education Funding in Pennsylvania

Date: October 14, 2016

With the October 19 deadline for a strike by members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) against the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) looming, I thought it might be useful for us to share again with you some of our findings, and that of our national partners, about the funding of higher education in Pennsylvania.

There are many important issues at stake in the dispute between APSCUF and PASSHE: wages, health benefits, replacement of tenure track by non-tenured faculty members, the place of “distance learning,” and authority over educational decisions. But underneath them all is the financial squeeze on both the PASSHE system and its 14 state universities on the one hand, and the more than 5000 faculty members represented by APSCUF on the other. 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.

  • 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. [2]
  • 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.[4]
  • Although PA funding for higher education increased by 2.5 in 2016-17, funding remains 15.7% below 2010-11 levels (without adjusting for inflation.)

  • Higher tuition jeopardizes the ability of many young people to afford the college education that is key to their long term wellbeing. Higher tuition has consistently been shown to result in declining enrollment.[5]  
  • This problem is especially significant for low-income students and students of color, and hurts campus diversity in public colleges.

 A recent study showed that “a $1000 tuition increase for full-time students is associated with a drop in campus diversity of almost 6%.”[6]
  • Higher tuition results in higher levels of student debt. Graduates of Pennsylvania’s four year colleges has the third highest average student debt ($31, 675 in 2014) in the nation.[7]
  • 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.
  • The wage gap between those with a bachelor’s degree and those with less education has doubled since 1979 in Pennsylvania.[9]

  • 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. Every additional year of schooling for the average worker in a community is associated with an increase in that community’s GDP of 17.4% and its wages of 17.8%.[10]
  • Reductions in funding for PASSHE institutions has harmed the communities in which they are located, costing them about 2,000 jobs in addition to the roughly 900 positions that have been eliminated in these universities.[11]


Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, and Kathleen, Masterson, Funding Down, Tuition Up: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, Center on Budget and Policy Priorites, August 15, 2016, p. 5-6.


Funding Down, Tuition up, p. 12


Stephen Herzenberg, Mark Price, and Michael Wood, A Must-Have for Pennsylvania Part Two: Investment in Higher Edcuation for Growth and Opportunity, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, October 2014, p. 3.


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 7.


Steven W. Hemelt and David E. Marcotte, The Impact of Tuition Increase on Enrollment at Public Colleges and Universities, Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, September 2011.


Drew Allen and Gregory C. Wolniak, “Exploring the Effects of Tuition Increases on Racial/Ethnic Diversity at Public Colleges and Universities,” New York University, 2015, p. 30, http://www.aera.net/Portals/38/Newsroom%20- %20Recent%20Research/Exploring%20the%20Effects%20of%20Tuition%20Increases%20on%20Racial- Ethnic%20Diversity%20at.pdf.


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 9


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 9.


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 6.


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 4.


A Must Have for Pennsylvania, Part Two, p. 16.