Ross: Funding the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

FCADC

In my role as president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation (FCADC), I am intimately involved in developing, implementing, and supporting a full range of education strategies that are intended to be the foundation of our workforce development tactics.  The strategies range from enhanced early learning initiatives to expanded secondary and post-secondary opportunities.  This week, I am focused on the importance of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and its transformational redesign in response to an array of challenges that confront public higher education nationally, but are acutely concentrated in Pennsylvania.  As such, all eyes are on Pennsylvania as it draws on lessons learned from more focused efforts in other states in order to fundamentally transform its education and business models – allowing it to sustainably drive economic development and social mobility into the 21st century. 

Comprised of 14 institutions to include Shippensburg University, PASSHE is the virtual equal of Penn State in meeting the needs of public higher education in the Commonwealth.  To show the comparison, Penn State’s system-wide enrollment is 88,914 students; PASSHE has 88,651 students.  Moreover, 90% of PASSHE students are Pennsylvania residents as compared to 59.3% at Penn State.  While both systems provide a high-quality education, the continued affordability of a PASSHE education is directly dependent on the need for increased funding from the state legislature.

The system redesign, which has taken place under the leadership of Chancellor Dan Greenstein, has been in large part at the direction of the state legislature, but its implementation and success will be directly proportional to increased state funding.  So, as the legislative budget season is in full bloom, let me highlight some of the most frequently asked questions.

What is the State System’s FY 2022-23 Funding Request?

The Board of Governors voted in October to request $550 million in state funding, an increase of $72 million or 15% and $201 million annually in financial aid payed directly to students attending a State System University.

How does the governor’s proposal compare?

The budget calls for increasing the State System’s operating funds by $75 million or 16% and providing $150 million in one-time stimulus funding. Wolf also advanced his $200 million Nellie Bly Scholarship Program to provide direct aid to State System and community college students who pursue degrees in high-demand fields.

What amount of public support does the General Assembly contribute to the State System’s operating budget?

The commonwealth contributes 29%, while the proportion of education costs paid by students at 4-year public institutions was nearly 72% in 2020, ranking Pennsylvania as the 11th highest in the country for percentage of costs borne by students.

How did the Board determine its funding request?

Over the course of three years, the Board and System leadership undertook a rigorous examination of its operations to determine what level of funding was imperative to hold the line on tuition, ensure efficient operations, and propel student success.

Why does the state’s public investment matter?

Most State System students come from Pennsylvania and most will stay here after graduation. Over 88% are PA residents. System students are typically high-need, academically and financially with 34% reciving Pell Grants. Thirty-two percent of first-time, degree seeking undergraduates are first generation college students. Since 2011, underrepresented minority enrollment has increased by 13%.

Are State System degrees drifting beyond the reach of low and middle income families?

For low- and middle-income families, almost 40 cents of every dollar earned goes to paying for a State System education, compared to just 20 cents of every dollar for high-income families. Net price is only $771 less than state-related institutions and $7,814 less than private institutions. Total tuition cost is $6,500 more than the cost of attending a state university in New York. The proportion of enrolled students from lower- and middle-income families has declined over the last decade.

Do State System graduates stay in Pennsylvania to live, work and support their communities?

Three years after graduating 71% of bachelor’s degree recipients are working in PA and have a median annual earning of $54,708, which contributes to local and regional economies.

So what about the impact of Shippensburg University?

Achievements and Highlights
  • 6,100 STUDENTS – Undergraduate, Graduate, and Doctoral
  • 20 FULBRIGHT SCHOLARS, the leader in PASSHE
  • 129 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference CHAMPIONSHIPS
  • 450+ undergraduate students engaged with faculty IN RESEARCH
  • TOP TWO PERCENT nationally in the certified public accountant (CPA) exam success rate
  • $275 MILLION RETURN ON INVESTMENT to Pennsylvania’s economy
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