Penn State president talks about challenges of balancing foster care student programs and tuition
Penn State would avoid in-state tuition increases this fall if the General Assembly delivers an $19.6 million increase in state funding, university President Eric Barron told lawmakers Tuesday.
Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg, Barron said annual state allocations for the university have remained flat — around $320 million — since 2000. Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year would continue that trend.
The extra $19.6 million sought by Penn State would amount to a 6 percent overall increase. Barron argued the university promotes economic development, job creation and other benefits by educating more Pennsylvanians than any other state or state-related schools.
He joined the presidents of other state-related universities — Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pittsburgh — to make their case for more than two hours. Penn State has not said how much it might raise tuition if lawmakers don’t provide more funding, but Barron said he supports using metrics and performance-based efforts to allocate money.
At one point, Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, quizzed Barron and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher over proposed legislation — House Bill 1745 — to provide tuition waivers to help foster children afford college. Barron supports assisting foster children, but stagnant appropriations from the state helped keep him from committing to that particular effort, he said.
“We have enormous pressure to keep tuition flat,” Barron said during the budget hearing. “ ... To add an additional burden means I have to pass on that cost to students.”
Lawmakers also brought up enrollment and economic challenges. Sen. David Argall, R-Berks and Schuykill, voiced concern over enrollment decreases projected until 2026. The state expects a roughly 15 percent decline in students of college age, he said.
Barron said Penn State admissions and financial offices are streamlined across Pennsylvania.
“We work incredibly hard at saving resources,” he said. “We sometimes share faculty (and) we provide online education that allows people to transition from one campus to another campus.”
Penn State counts 20 undergraduate campuses, including University Park, and has a campus within 30 miles of 96 percent of Pennsylvanians. Many campuses allow students to live at home and commute to school, which “promotes a considerable amount of access,” Barron said.
What does Penn State contribute to the state economy?
The hearing came as Penn State promoted a recent study by financial expert David Swenson. It found the university contributed more than $11.6 billion to the state economy and supported 105,000 jobs — directly and indirectly — in fiscal year 2017.
Penn State also will have an economic extension called a LaunchBox at “every single one of the towns that has a campus,” Barron said. These offices help not just students and staff but any community member who wants to launch a business, angling to foster economic development and job retention, he said.
“We really work hard with this tuning to the community,” he said.
Every campus, excluding University Park, has a student median income that mirrors the Pennsylvania median income, showing Penn State’s ability to attract students from different income brackets, Barron said. According to an analysis by the Association of American Universities, a student from the bottom 20 percent of the income bracket who attends a university like Penn State has a 40 percent or higher chance of ending up in the top 20 percent of family income, he said.
On another front, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, asked Barron if any metrics at Penn State show the effects of the state’s anti-hazing push. Wolf signed the Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing law in October, establishing tougher punishments for hazing, among related provisions.
Penn State has limited social mixers, taken control of monitoring parties, banned hard alcohol from parties and deferred fraternity and sorority recruitment, Barron said. Since such changes took effect, he said, alcohol-related crime in State College dropped 50 percent; alcohol-related emergency room visits dropped 17 percent; and the sexual assault rate dropped “considerably,” though he did not provide numbers.
Penn State also just unveiled a multi-million research center to study Greek life, Barron said.
Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline for finalizing the state budget. The 2020 fiscal year begins in July.