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Students, Democrats Denounce Corbett Plan for Higher Education Cuts

Students from Penn State and Temple Universities joined with Democrats Monday to criticize Governor Tom Corbett's proposal to cut funding for colleges that depend on state aid.

"With these cuts, we can cut programs, we can cut majors, we can hire fewer faculty, we could reduce our pensions, but it's going to make our schools a much less desirable place to learn, and to teach, and to research," said Penn State student Mallory Reed.

Corbett's 2012-2013 budget proposal would stack 30 percent cuts on top of last year's 18 percent funding reduction for the four state-related schools: Penn State, Temple, Lincoln University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Temple senior Elliot Griffin said her alma mater can't deal with the cuts by simply reining in its spending.

"Temple University has cut over $70 million in spending, and still we'll be forced to increase tuition," said Griffin. "What that means for students is that we're taking out bigger loans, and students are working full-time jobs."

The 14 colleges owned by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, such as Clarion and Slippery Rock Universities, would see about 20 percent less state aid this year after experiencing similar cuts last year. The PASSHE budget would drop from $503 million to $330 million over a two-year span if Corbett's proposal passes the Republican-dominated state legislature. The line item for state-related universities would wane from $688 million to $368 million over that same time period.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D - Delaware) called that approach an "apocalyptically bad policy direction."

"This is not a cut. This is an abandonment," said Leach. "This is a policy decision to stop caring if kids go to college in Pennsylvania."

Leach said he's hopeful that House and Senate Republicans will reject the governor's proposal.

"The governor wanted a 52 percent cut last time, and he got significantly less than that, although still a substantial cut. So, he's trying to do what he couldn't do in one year in two years, essentially," said Leach. "I'm hoping the same Republicans who pushed back last time will push back again."

Corbett Administration Responds

Leach's characterization of the cuts as "apocalyptically bad" was deemed an "overreach" by the Corbett administration.

Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said the cuts would amount to relatively small portions of the state-related schools' operating budgets. For example, Penn State's total yearly funding would be cut 1.6%, with Pitt's overall budget being reduced 2.1%.

"So, I think it's a little bit disingenuous to go and call it 'apocalyptic' cuts that are being made," said Eller.

PASSHE would get the worst of it with a 3.8% budget reduction due to the cuts. Eller said those 14 schools are primarily funded by tuition, grants, and private donations.

Eller said the governor has suggested that schools shouldn't raise tuition to counteract the proposed budget cuts.

"We continue to be faced with difficult financial decisions, and everybody, from the higher education all the way down through basic ed and any sector across the economy, needs to look at reducing expenditures any way that they can," said Eller.