Penn State

Penn State trustees hear state funding expected to stay level

Pennsylvania’s budget deficit could approach $1 billion this year, but Penn State officials don’t think it will lead to funding cuts for higher education.

Mike DiRaimo, the university’s special assistant for governmental affairs, told the board of trustees outreach committee Thursday he expects state funding to largely remain flat for Penn State.

DiRaimo said the natural response for university officials, in light of the soaring deficit, was to expect cuts were coming, but state legislators have indicated to Penn State that it won’t happen.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is that they (lawmakers) are going to do whatever they can to not cut higher education,” he said. “I think they appreciated we paid our fair share, if not more than our fair share a few years ago.”

DiRaimo was referencing steep funding cuts the university faced in Gov. Tom Corbett’s first year in office. The governor proposed a 50 percent decease in support, but that number was eventually lessened.

Penn State is asking the state for $214 million in general support, money that helps fund the in-state discount for students. It also helps fund the commonwealth campus system that allows the university to provide affordable education throughout the state, DiRaimo said.

Outgoing President Rodney Erickson previously told state legislators that flat funding, or the $214 million, would mean the university has to increase tuition by about 3 percent. That’s similar to the tuition increase the university adopted last year, 3.39 percent for in-state students.

The finance committee Thursday recommended approval for an interim maintenance and operating budget of nearly $4.43 billion.

Final approval of the budget will come in July after the university knows for sure what its state appropriations will be. No action on changes in tuition and necessary expense increases — including employee salaries, wages and benefits — will be taken until then.

In addition to possible tuition increases, the board of trustees discussed earlier this year increasing room and board rates by about $400 for the next school year.

The average cost for a standard room with two beds and the most common meal plan would be $4,885 per semester, or $9,770 for the year. That’s a 4.27 percent increase over the current year.

Also Thursday, DiRaimo also updated the outreach committee on the university’s pension requirements for the coming year.

The university will continue to pay more for its contribution to the State Employees’ Retirement System, one of two retirement plans it offers employees.

The amount Penn State contributes is expected to increase to almost 20 percent next year, up from 15 percent in 2013-14 and less than 5 percent as recently as 2010-11.

That would translate to the university spending about $13 million more next year to cover those with PSERS, about a third of all university employees.