President Rodney Erickson argues for Penn State funding before House Appropriations panel

Penn State President Rodney Erickson speaks during the meeting.  The Penn State Board of Trustees met  January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus.  Nabil K. Mark
Penn State President Rodney Erickson speaks during the meeting. The Penn State Board of Trustees met January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus. Nabil K. Mark

Penn State President Rodney Erickson told the state House Appropriations Committee on Monday that while he appreciated the work of the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett to keep level the state’s appropriation to the university, he urged members that continued funding is critical not only to the university, but to the entire commonnwealth.

Erickson traveled to Harrisburg to answer lawmakers’ questions and make the case for Penn State to receive adequate funding.

The governor, in his 2013-14 budget plan, proposed Penn State would receive $279 million for in-state tuition subsidies, agriculture research, the Hershey Medical Center and others. The amount is the same the university received in the past two fiscal years. The university’s cut is part of Corbett’s $1.58 billion higher education package, which includes other state-related universities.

The governor’s budget must be voted on by the General Assembly before becoming law. A state budget must be approved by June 30.

Erickson argued that Penn State’s economic impact on the commonwealth is close to $20 billion annually. That means lawmakers would be prudent to consider the university as a solid investment.

“Pennsylvania’s state-related universities are a powerhouse for economic growth and vitality in the commonwealth, together conducting about $2 billion annually in research activity with the bulk of those dollars coming from outside the state,” Erickson said. “Penn State alone accounts for over $807 million dollars a year in research expenditures, helping to support the state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture — as well as a broad base of science and technology, health care and national defense needs.”

Erickson told House Appropriations Committee members that going forward, the commonwealth must restore funding to higher levels.”

“In future years we must commit ourselves to rebuilding the financial support for our state-related universities, which has eroded over the past decade and more.”

Penn State promised to keep costs in check and tuition increases as low as possible in return for the governor’s budget plan to include the same appropriation as the last budget year.

“We are well-aware of the fiscal pressures facing the state, and we’re doing our part through major cost reduction strategies, only providing for basic operating increases, and keeping tuition as low as possible,” Erickson told the committee. “This year, our students have had the lowest tuition increase in 45 years.”

The $279 million allocation is broken down like this:

•  $214 million in Penn State’s 2013-14 budget for general education, which helps subsidize tuition for Pennsylvania students;

•  $13.6 million for the university’s Penn College in Williamsport;

•  $44.7 million for the College of Agricultural Sciences, which funds research and its cooperative extension;

•  $7 million would go to Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center through the state’s health and public welfare departments.

Erickson, who has made the cost of a college education a priority, said that over the past decade, the average loan for a student graduating in the U.S. has increased from $21,700 to $27,700.

“Our state may not immediately see the effects of forcing working-class students, even upper middle-class students, to choose between an opportunity to obtain a college degree and the load of a crushing debt burden for many years to come,” he said. “But we know this — mortgaging our children’s higher education future is not the pathway to a great and competitive state for future generations.”

Erickson will again argue for consistent appropriations and warn of future repercussions of dwindling allocations when he visits the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.