The State System faces some important decisions to make again this year.
We are grateful for the additional 5 percent increase ($20.6 million) that was included in the 2015-2016 supplemental budget—the first new money our 14 state-owned universities have seen in eight years. This came after the Board of Governors had to make the tough decision to raise tuition—albeit modestly—after significantly cutting university budgets yet again last year. In fact, over the last decade $300 million has been trimmed from university budgets. The System is operating at a 1999 funding level while trying to compete in a 21st century educational environment.
Governor Wolf has recommended another 5 percent increase for the System in 2016-2017, and we are hopeful it will come to fruition as the Commonwealth works to create a balanced budget. This funding is vitally important as the faculty, staff, and administrators at our universities strive to meet the changing needs of more than 100,000 students across our System, who are our top priority.
Even if the System receives this increase, the System will still face a sizable deficit and will find it challenging to cover mandatory costs such as healthcare and pension contributions. This does not even take into account salary adjustments and contracts currently being negotiated.
You might remember that the System asked the General Assembly for a 20 percent increase earlier in the year to cover those costs and to provide new investment for programs and system enhancements. We’ve been working hard to advocate for greater investment. STEM degrees are the fastest growing areas of study in the System, both in terms of student demand and documented need across the Commonwealth. While these degrees are equipment- and technology-intensive, investment in these programs not only benefits our students, it also benefits the Commonwealth’s economic growth far into the future.
The System will continue to seek additional funding to fulfill its mission to provide a high-quality, high-value education to our students, but tough decisions related to budget cuts and tuition will still need to be made. We are committed to keeping tuition as low as possible and building on the renewed partnership with the Commonwealth as it considers greater investment in our public universities.
At the end of the day, the System’s goal remains the same: to offer a high-quality, high-value educational experience that prepares students for life, career, and the responsibilities of citizenship in this great Commonwealth and beyond.