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Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities to share $200 million in new state funding

This is the Renna M. Carlson Library on the campus of Clarion University in Clarion, Pa, on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.
Gene J. Puskar
This is the Renna M. Carlson Library on the campus of Clarion University in Clarion, Pa, on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education approved plans for divvying up its share of new state budget money this week. Leadership is pledging to use much of the money to boost student financial aid efforts.

The 10 state-owned universities are receiving between a few hundred thousand and several million more dollars based on how many full-time students have recently attended. Each school is also getting between $7 and $23 million in federal pandemic relief money. In all, state lawmakers agreed to send $75 million more in state taxes as well as $125 million in one-time relief cash.

The system’s two newest schools — Commonwealth and Pennsylvania Western universities – will also be getting additional funding. The two schools formed from six others earlier this year. Chancellor Daniel Greenstein celebrated the funding decisions during Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting.

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“We’re really at a watershed moment,” Greenstein said. “We have an opportunity; the opportunity that so many of us have fought so hard for.”

Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira also celebrated what she called a “historic” funding package.

“We are pledged, of course…to ensure that the dollars are invested as wisely as possible,” Board Chair Cnythina Shapira added. “Not in routine operations, but to prepare ourselves for the future and to be very strategic about it.”

In a bid to keep its schools competitive, PASSHE’s Board voted in April to freeze tuition for a fourth year. Students will pay a little over $8,000 in tuition and technology fees next year. Leadership had made that freeze contingent on a state funding increase.

Greenstein has obsessed over improving enrollment at the group of state-owned universities, which has lagged in the last decade. Around 75,000 full-time students attended state system schools last fall – compared to roughly 105,000 students in the 2011-2012 school year.

The tuition freeze, coupled with the new state funding and combining lower-enrollment schools like Edinboro, Clarion and California Universities together are being held up as things that could reverse that trend.

Other recent policy changes, including the guaranteeing of admission to transfer students with associate’s degrees, are also aimed at increasing attendance.

The only person to speak during the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting said he’s not sure whether any of the changes will make a long-term difference for students.

“In reality, students are still graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and it’s really quite sad,” Nick Marcel, a Graduate Assistant at West Chester University, said. “I really hope that the Board, the Chancellor’s office, legislators..are actually doing something to make sure that the student debt crisis is eliminated.”

Greenstein agreed the system’s schools need to be affordable for larger groups of students.

“The cost of our education is still high,” Greensten said shortly after.

“The reason that we can’t often fill those requests for more teachers or more healthcare workers is that the cost of the education that we’re providing in those areas is higher than is repaid when they go off into the labor market, so they need help,” he added.

The State System has said it wants to grow enrollment at its Pennsylvania Western group of schools by at least 8% by 2026.