Penn State

Penn State awaits word on funding proposal from governor

Penn State will find out this week just how generous the governor is.

When Gov. Tom Corbett gives his budget address Tuesday, he will reveal how many millions of dollars he has for the university in his 2014-15 spending plan for the state.

University administrators have requested almost $300 million, which is a 5 percent increase over the $285 million the state gave Penn State last year. That money went toward subsidizing in-state tuition and for agricultural research and the cooperative extension, the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport and the Hershey Medical Center.

So far, there’s been no indication from the governor on whether he’s planning an increase, decrease or flat funding, university officials and lawmakers said.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said that is typical.

“I would make no assumptions about it,” Erickson said after the University Faculty Senate meeting on campus last week. “I guess we’ll all find out on Tuesday morning.

“Stay tuned.”

Whatever the governor proposes on Tuesday will be just that — a proposal. The state House and Senate will review that figure and the rest of the governor’s budget over the next few months until the powers that be all agree on a spending plan.

The lion’s share of the state funding goes toward subsidizing the tuition of Pennsylvania residents. In 2013-14, the university got $214 million and that meant about a $12,500 discount compared with what students from New York, New Jersey and other states have to pay. In-state tuition is $16,090, and out-of-state is $28,664.

For next year, the university has asked for almost $11 million more, or $225 million, to put toward in-state tuition subsidies.

Last year at this time, the governor, lawmakers and Erickson had a gentleman’s agreement: The university would keep tuition increases as modest as possible in exchange for level funding from the year before. The tuition increase ended up being 3.39 percent for in-state students at the University Park campus.

This time around, that agreement doesn’t appear to have been offered, as Erickson said things have been quiet. And, Erickson said the last time he saw the governor was on stage at the Pennsylvania Farm Show earlier in January.

Two local lawmakers whose districts include the Penn State campus are optimistic the governor’s budget will include an increase for Penn State.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, is crossing his fingers the governor will restore some of the funding that was cut in recent years. He said he’s noticed Corbett has focused on education at public speaking events, and he hopes that translates into funding.

“I’m assuming that his budget is going to call for a commitment for education, and I’m hoping that includes higher ed,” Corman said.

Pennsylvania and Penn State have long been partners, Corman said, and he does not want to see the state lose out as a significant partner by not providing adequate funding to stop tuition rates from climbing.

“Saving for college is a very hard thing for parents, as I can speak to,” said Corman, a father of three. “I think it’s very important for the citizens of Pennsylvania that we keep our commitment to higher education to keep the tuition down.”

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, thinks Corbett will play politics and propose more money to Penn State and other state-related universities such as Pittsburgh, because the governor is facing re-election this year.

“Knowing the governor is up for re-election, also knowing that Penn State was cut 24 percent by the governor when he first came in and it’s not been put back, I’m hoping that he puts a small percentage back into place,” Conklin said, referring to the cuts made by Corbett in 2011.

A spokesman for the state Education Department indicated last month that the governor would not fatten the higher education budget, which he called an investment of $1.58 billion by state taxpayers.

“The state must live within its means and not expect taxpayers to send more of their hard-earned money to Harrisburg,” spokesman Timothy Eller said Jan. 13.

After the governor’s proposal is unveiled, Erickson will make a trip to Harrisburg on Feb. 13 to testify before the state House and Senate appropriations committees.