By SUSAN JONES
Gov. Josh Shapiro, in his first budget address to the Pennsylvania legislature, proposed a 7.1 percent increase in funding for the four state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — and set an ambitious goal of rethinking higher education in the state during the coming year.
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher wouldn’t speculate on Pitt’s chances of getting the whole 7.1 percent increase, but “what I can say, for certain, is that I’m grateful for Gov. Josh Shapiro’s support and Pitt’s ongoing partnership with the legislature. Ultimately, this funding directly supports Pennsylvanians and — in doing so — acts as a direct and powerful mechanism for strengthening Pennsylvania’s future.
All of the general support appropriation Pitt gets from the state goes toward lowering tuition costs for in-state students. Pitt had asked for a 6 percent increase in the budget request it submitted last fall.
Last year, Pitt requested a 5.5 percent increase, after receiving flat funding over the previous two years. Former Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal for 2022-23 contained a 5 percent increase for the state-related schools. After extended and sometimes rancorous negotiations, the legislature ultimately gave no increases to the schools. Wolf then used money that lawmakers appropriated to the governor’s office for “pandemic response” to give the state-related schools a one-time payment that equaled 5 percent of the amount passed by the legislature — an additional $7.5 million in Pitt’s case.
Shapiro’s proposal would bring the general support appropriation for Pitt to $162.26 million and funding for rural education outreach to $3.84 million. While these numbers are a 7.1 percent increase over what the legislature appropriated last year, they are only a 2 percent hike from what Pitt eventually received.
The budget proposal also contains capital funds for Pitt, including $5 million for renovations of Chevron Science Center; $10 million for the Hillman Library project and $37 million for construction of a track & field complex.
Gallagher and the leaders of the three other state-related schools are scheduled to appear before the House and Senate appropriations committees on March 21 and 30, respectively.
The state House has been in some turmoil during the first two months of the year. Much of the work of the House was delayed until three races in the Pittsburgh area were decided. Democrats won all three races, giving the party its first majority (102-100) in the House since 2010.
The House also has a new leader. Shapiro and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis made a special note at the budget address of introducing “Madam Speaker” Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), who is the first woman and only the second Black lawmaker to hold that role. McClinton was elected to the post in late February, after two months under Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who was a compromise candidate elected while the House was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Shapiro noted that he had been to seven budget addresses as a member of the House. Now he must deal with being governor in one of only two states with a divided legislature, with different parties holding the House and Senate, and the only full-time legislature in this position, he said.
Higher education reform
One of the first moves Shapiro made as governor was to sign an executive order announcing that 92 percent of state government jobs will not require a college degree. He also said in his budget address that his administration has a comprehensive plan to invest in apprenticeship programs, expand vo-tech, and bring career and technical education back into Pennsylvania classrooms.
Chancellor Gallagher noted that, “As Gov. Shapiro said in his address: Pennsylvanians should get to decide what’s best for them. However, the data on the benefits of a college degree — and the economic mobility and opportunity it generates — is clear. And, as chancellor, I have had the honor of seeing — firsthand and on repeat — the transformative impact of a Pitt education in action.”
For those who choose to pursue college, Shapiro said, “It’s on us to rethink our system of higher education — because what we’re doing isn’t working. Colleges competing with one another for a limited dollar — duplicating degree programs, driving up costs and actually reducing access. As enrollment declines and questions about the value of a college degree persist, it’s on us to once and for all have an honest dialogue about higher education in Pennsylvania.”
He has asked acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin to convene the state’s college and university presidents “to pick up on the conversation I’ve already started with them.” They will form a time-limited working group that will give Shapiro “a comprehensive and meaningful reform plan for higher education” to present during next year’s budget address. It’s unclear if Gallagher will sit on this committee or Pitt’s still-unnamed new chancellor will be involved.
“It’s time for a blueprint for higher education focused on competitiveness and workforce development, and grounded in access and affordability,” Shapiro said.
Gallagher, who headed the Education and Workforce transition committee for Shapiro, told the University Times earlier this year that one of the things holding Pennsylvania back is lack of a “coherent strategy with a lot of consensus around it, because it’s not about one year of investment. It’s about a steady commitment to investing and how you invest and what the priorities are. And we’ve not had that in Pennsylvania.”
This week, Gallagher stressed, “Building a more collaborative and productive system of higher education in Pennsylvania is necessary, overdue and ripe for Pitt’s involvement.”
In an op-ed last week in the Post-Gazette, Gallagher continued to emphasize this message: “Nearly all state governments — Pennsylvania excluded — support one higher education system that includes a mix of local, geographically dispersed community colleges and large, research-intensive flagship universities,” he wrote. “Each system is designed to support enough diversity to satisfy the various educational needs of its residents while maintaining enough cohesion to help policymakers allocate resources effectively and strategically.
“In comparison: Pennsylvania’s approach can hardly be called a system. Some residents live near a wealth of state-supported schools, all with a different funding relationship to the commonwealth and all competing for the same, limited number of students. Other residents live in areas where their window into a state-supported college campus is limited to a 60-second commercial break during football season.
“For Pennsylvania’s taxpayers, neither option is acceptable.”
Gallagher noted that Pennsylvania has not prioritized building “one healthy, symbiotic higher education system” and consistently is at or near the bottom of the national rankings in per capita support for higher education.
The governor’s plan to bring college and university leaders together “to create a shared playbook for Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities that prioritizes access and affordability, economic opportunity and workforce development — is a radical shift in the right direction that will require input from champions on both sides of the political aisle,” Gallagher wrote.
The chancellor said in January that he hopes the governor can get support in the General Assembly to create a more strategic response. “And it almost doesn’t matter to me what that strategy looks like. I think we can all get behind it. But I think having a strategy is a success. The biggest problem would be just not having a strategy and continuing to be just tactical and short-term year after year after year.”
Other Shapiro proposals
Raise the minimum wage to $15. He said that the current rate, $7.25, is not a livable wage in 2023 and is lower than 30 other states, including all of Pennsylvania’s neighbors. The state’s minimum wage hasn’t been increased in 14 years.
Fund and hire a new class of labor law compliance investigators to make sure every employer follows the law. He also stressed that, “All workers should have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Hear me on this — so long as I am your governor, Pennsylvania will never be a right-to-work state.”
Invest $66.7 million in Child Care Works to give more parents access to stable childcare, enabling more people to enter the workforce.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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