Penn State

Pa. budget woes prompt accreditation issues for Penn State

An accrediting agency has contacted Penn State for information about how the university is being affected by the state budget impasse.
An accrediting agency has contacted Penn State for information about how the university is being affected by the state budget impasse. Centre Daily Times, file

Penn State is already dealing with nine months without a state budget appropriation.

It’s looking down the road to laying off agricultural employees on May 1.

How could the budget stalemate between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led legislature make things more complicated?

Well, what if it affected the university’s accreditation?

On March 10, Middle States Commission on Higher Education Vice President Tito Guerrero sent Penn State President Eric Barron a letter.

“The (MSCHE) is aware that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a major funding source for The Pennsylvania State University. I am writing on behalf of the commission to request information about the impact of the current budget impasse on institutional operations,” wrote Guerrero.

“While we are aware that the budget impasse is not within your control, its impact on the availability of state funding to the institution has raised questions concerning Pennsylvania State University’s ability to remain in compliance with Standard 3 (Institutional Resources) — especially if this situation persists for any significant period of time,” he wrote.

According to MSCHE spokesman Richard Pokrass, similar letters were sent by commission representatives to the other state-related universities — Temple, Pitt and Lincoln — as well as to Penn College of Technology, affiliated with Penn State, and the administration of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities.

That’s 19 separate schools in Pennsylvania. Penn State alone, the largest college in the state, has 24 campuses across the commonwealth.

Pokrass said the request is “not adverse.”

“We’re aware of this situation and need to know what’s happening,” he said.

It’s something that happens occasionally when issues arise in the 10-year periods between accreditations being confirmed.

Penn State’s last reaffirmation took place in June 2015. It is not due for another study until 2024, Pokrass said.

But the university has faced questions in the past. In August 2012, Penn State was put on a warning status after the release of the Freeh report and the NCAA’s sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Pokrass said the university earned its way off of warnings in just three months, a rapid recovery that reflected how Penn State responded to the issues.

Penn State can respond to the request, but handling the budget is out of the university’s hands.

“The state’s inability to come to an agreement on funding its state-related universities is being noticed well beyond Pennsylvania borders. The questions this stalemate is raising for accreditation underscores the significance of the issue and the critical need to resolve it,” said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

On Wednesday, a budget was passed in Harrisburg that would address funding for all of the schools. At press time, it had not been signed or rejected by the governor, who had promised a veto.

“Gov. Wolf understands the importance of funding education at all levels, including the state-related universities, but math and reality has not changed. We simply do not have the money for these appropriations, and unfortunately, it has become common practice for Harrisburg to refuse to pay the bills it has racked up on the taxpayer’s credit card. The governor is hopeful Republican leaders will come back to the table to work with him to pass a real, final budget that is balanced, fixes the deficit and invests in education with real revenue,” said Wolf’s spokesman, Jeff Sheridan.

“The financial problems of Penn State and other colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania are the result of years of underfunding by the commonwealth, and Gov. Wolf has proposed a four year commitment to fully restore the damaging cuts to our colleges and universities made by the previous governor and Republican-controlled legislature, including a 5 percent increase in both his 2015-16 and 2016-17 budget proposals.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce