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Tuition freeze still far off: Legislators propose stop-gap

Joanna Harlow
Reporter
ejh1498@lhup.edu
bizjournals.com

Tom Wolf, bizjournals.com

In early 2015, the PASSHE Board of Governors agreed to freeze the tuition of state universities as long as Gov. Wolf’s $45.3 million budget was passed. Despite the past 11 weeks of talks and meetings, the 2015 budget has yet to be passed, and state university students will see an increase in their tuitions.

The PASSHE Board of Governors has reserved the right to increase tuition if the budget is not passed. With no sign of an agreement between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican legislators in sight, tuition will begin to rise. The board of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education voted Thursday to raise in-state tuition by $240 to $7,060 for the two-semester 2015-16 school year. According to their press release, they need to do this in order to offset the deficits the schools face.

“Even with the modest tuition increase we approved today, the universities still would need to make significant budget cuts without any increased funding from the state again next year,” Board of Governors Chairman, Guido M. Pichini said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett’s State budget included a significant funding cut to the PASSHE System. Combined, the fourteen universities have made more than 270 million dollars in budget cuts. On June 30, 2011, PASSHE’s Board of Governors approved a 436 million dollar tuition increase (7.5 percent) for 2011-12. Since the 2011 cut, The PASSHE System  has placed over 100 academic programs in moratorium and many more have been discontinued altogether. Tuition has also increased by nearly 17 percent  since 2011, and fees by 18 percent.

Starting this week, legislative leaders say they will attempt to pass a stop-gap budget to fund state government for several months while negotiations continue.

Gov. Wolf told a Pittsburgh radio station on Tuesday that he’d only sign a stop-gap plan if he has a general budget agreement with the GOP. He said he wouldn’t consider a stop-gap as an alternative to the budget; and would only consider a “reasonable” bill after he sees what the GOP has thrown into it.

With the budget in the balance, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, who have fought in the past to secure an adequate state budget, has begun a campaign to raise budget-awareness in the university system.

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Students at Lock Haven may have received postcards reading “Why Education Matters to Me” from APSCUF representative staff. Students are asked to write why they value their PASSHE education. The cards are then mailed to local lawmakers  Republican Senator Joe Scarnati and Democratic Representative Mike Hanna.

APSCUF’s goal is to get students involved in understanding what is happening in Harrisburg and how it influences their lives. Faculty-liaison, Erin Kennedy, associate professor of psychology reaches out to student groups to educate them about APSCUF.  She has a twitter account where students can follow her.  APSCUF also has voter registration drives regularly.

When asked about whether the organization has had  success with this strategy, Tracey Cummings, professor of English said: “We know that the legislators are more interested in hearing from students than from us.”

According to Lock Haven’s APSCUF release,  for every state dollar invested in the University, $7.45 is returned back to the Commonwealth’s economy. The release also makes an argument for the schools’ local value. It reminds students and faculty that Lock Haven University is the third largest employer in Clinton County and that thousands of the university’s alumni reside in the four counties surrounding the school.

The postcards will be given out to students this week and next week.  There will be a table outside of Bentley on Thursday from 10-2.

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