By Amy Majani, APSCUF Intern, ESU Student
Last week, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Frank Brogan, along with Slippery Rock President Cheryl Norton and Indian University of Pennsylvania Student Government President Marissa Olean, testified before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. While PASSHE did submit an official appropriation request in October 2013 for a $35 million increase in its E&G Apporpriation and $18 million for a new High Priority Occupation Program line item, most of the hearings focused not on the cuts of 2011-12 or the need for increased state funding, but on a myriad of issues including the future of the system in an era of declining state support.
House Appropriations Hearing
The House hearing covered a wide array issues; from student enrollment trends and weapons on campus policies to university separation/privatization and retrenchment .When asked about the process of administering faculty layoffs and their relationship to existing finances, Chancellor Brogan explained that retrenchment involved looking at enrollment rates in individual programs as well as the level of demand for them on top of the current fiscal environment.
When asked about the current state of PASSHE’s Weapon Policy, Brogan noted that half of PASSHE campuses ban weapons completely and half have internal policies that provided limited carrying in designated areas. The Board of Governors has the current draft weapons policy on hold, according to Brogan, while they watch trends in other states and the development of case law surrounding the issue.
In response to Rep. Jake Wheatley’s question about what exactly PASSHE’s mission is in the current multi-layered landscape of hundreds of colleges in Pennsylvania, Brogan pointed out that while the setting translated to heightened competition, to survive in such a system PASSHE schools needed to organize as well as work on finding a niche area that responds to the regional nature of each institution. Emphasis was placed on avoiding duplication of programs or redundancy at PASSHE’s 14 universities.
Rep. Mike Carroll asked what affect there would be if some PASSHE universities separate from the system, alluding to rumors that the Senate will soon introduce legislation allowing some universities to opt out. Brogan said that he had not seen legislation on the issue but indicated that there have been discussions about concerns regarding bonding capacity, contracts and collective bargaining and facilities if some of the universities became state-related or private institutions. However, draft language for the rumored legislation has yet to be seen, making it difficult to outline specific responses.
Senate Appropriations Hearing
In contrast to the largely varied questions in the House hearing, the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing focused more heavily on the future composition of the State System, including discussion of the ideas of allowing universities to separate from the State System or even closing for good. In this vain, discussion centered on the need for local flexibility--especially in setting tuition rates—and less centralization from the Office of the Chancellor. Members also commented on the need to “right-size” PASSHE to meet the demands of changing financial and demographic realities.
Senator Andrew Dinniman remarked, "The system has engaged in a one-size-fits-all approach, and we know that doesn't work. It doesn't work when you see the budget and it doesn't work when you see the demographics."
Following up on the issue of changing demographics, Senator Tomlinson asked how PASSHE could provide greater flexibility to individual institutions, as well as if closure of some institutions was an option. In response, Brogan acknowledged the need for local flexibility and a re-evaluation of the current centralized system.
“It is increasingly becoming economically and organizationally unsustainable for every university to offer the same program. We need to make sure that each university is offering an academic program array that's not only right for that institution but also the region that it's in and the state of Pennsylvania." Brogan opined.
Chairman Vincent Hughes was one of the only Senators to bring up the biggest issue impacting PASSHE—substantial lack of state funding--by noting that the proposed $412 million allocation for PASSHE was the lowest it had been since 1997. He raised concern about the need for PASSHE to be successfully equipped to achieve its mission of providing quality education to low- and middle-income families in an era of stustained cuts. The Chairman made the point that talking about cutting, right-sizing, and university separation as solutions to PASSHE’s current issues is a false conversation in the context of drastically reduced state funding.
Chairman Jake Corman closed the hearing by remarking on the difficult, uphill battle that higher education faces in future budgets as "the last to be funded and the first to be cut." "Affordable higher education is essential for the future of the commonwealth," stated Chairman Corman.
Assuming that the Governor’s proposed budget for PASSHE is approved, Brogan pointed out that the 2014-15 deficit for PASSHE would be 60 million , tuition would rise by at least 3 percent and millions of dollars in cuts would have to be enforced.
The rhetoric on right-sizing PASSHE to meet changing realities not only erodes the past successes of the system, it excuses the state for disinvesting in the State System and ignores the subsequent impacts state cuts have had on the System. In essence, it reinforces the idea of a “new normal.” APSCUF is actively lobbying the legislature to begin restoring the cuts from 2011-12 by increasing the E&G appropriation by $16.5 million; reinstating the Programs Initiative Line Item (which historically provided funding for performance funding) at $18 million; and restore funding to the Cheyney Keystone Honors Academy.
It’s vital for APSCUF members to discuss the PASSHE budget concerns with their legislators. Go to www.legis.state.pa.us for legislator contact information.
Striking UICUF Faculty,
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), which represents over 6,000 faculty and coaches, stands in full support of your efforts to pay professors what they are worth and to improve the quality of your students’ education. The conditions under which faculty work are the conditions under which students learn.
APSCUF faculty and coaches stand in solidarity with your efforts to make sure that the university not repeatedly raise tuition and keep billions in reserves while some members of the faculty only earn $30,000 a year.
APSCUF faculty and coaches understand that the decision to strike is one of the hardest decisions that professionals can make, and we know that this decision was made only because your trustees’ proposals remain inadequate after scores of negotiations sessions.
APSCUF faculty and coaches admire your resolve, and we urge our colleagues across the nation to support your efforts.
At February’s Legislative Assembly, APSCUF’S Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Policy issued a policy on distance education.
While the policy states that distance education provides access to underserved student populations, it maintains that the traditional method of classroom instruction proves to be a better method. Unlike the traditional method, distance education lacks the direct and immediate social interaction between instructors and students that is essential to the educational environment. Other challenges facing distance education include student retention issues, strained student time-management skills, and the difficulty instructors face in their attempts to replicate a traditional classroom experience.
On Tuesday, February 4, Governor Corbett announced his 2014-15 budget priorities. Once again he has proposed flat funding ($412 million) for the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). He has also proposed a $25 million scholarship program for middle-income students.
APSCUF believes that this year a general appropriations increase is necessary to begin to restore the funding cuts, maintain a quality education for our 110,000 students, and ensure minimal tuition increases. In 2011, PASSHE experienced a $90 million (18 percent) reduction in state support and for the past two budget cycles, funding has remained flat. State funding for PASSHE is at the same level it was in 1997.
Today's budget address from Governor Corbett was neither a surprise nor very helpful.
If you didn't hear, the Governor announced another year at the same level of funding ($412 million) as the past two years -- the amount PASSHE has been held to since the Governor's 2011 proposed 54 percent cut was carved back to 18 percent by the Legislature.
These numbers mean this: we are currently 47th in the country in per capital spending v. income; last year we were one of ten states to not increase higher ed funding; we rank 45th in 5-year change in higher ed funding (-18.2 percent).
None of those numbers are good.
APSCUF will be working with the Legislature in the coming weeks to push for more funding so that we aren't now mistaken for a poor, Southern state. We hope you will push your local legislator, too, to re-prioritize the state budget so we don't continue to overburden our students and their working class families. I remind you that in October, the Board of Governors put out a budget with a 4 percent increase from the state appropriation that would mean a 3 percent increase in tuition. What does flat funding mean to that formula? 5 percent tuition increase? More resource starving of the universities?
We will keep you informed as the weeks to the budget resolution continue.
By Amy Majani, APSCUF intern
On Tuesday, January 28, throngs of union members from around the state stood together at the Capitol building to oppose House Bill 1507 and Senate Bill 1034, which would make the payroll deduction of union dues, fair share fees, and political contributions non-negotiable in public employee collective bargaining agreements.
Although the legislation only affects public sector unions (with the exception of police and firefighters), Tuesday’s rally was a united front of both public and private sector unions from all over the commonwealth.
At the January 23rd State System Board of Governors meeting, APSCUF president Steve Hicks addressed the board with the following comments about student recruitment concerns.
I want to speak to you about a common concern: student recruitment.
Let me start with a general concern: reading the newspaper accounts the last few months does not lay a positive image for those students looking for a university in the fall.
First, there's been the spectacle of staff layoffs. The faculty numbers are thankfully down from the high water announcements, yet we still have 25 permanent faculty being laid off and untold numbers -- maybe over 100 -- of temporaries. At a time when Shepherd University puts a sign in Shippensburg about visiting them, we shouldn't be acting like we have fewer seats and fewer programs to attract students.
And the argument about “shrinking the faculty” or shrinking the university belies the numbers. At Edinboro in 1999, they had more students than they do now by 200, yet then they had 28 MORE faculty. And that’s before the layoffs next year.
During the PASSHE webcast on its proposed weapons policy, APSCUF president, Dr. Steve Hicks, and vice president, Dr. Ken Mash, offered brief remarks expressing concerns about the draft policy. Dr. Lisa Millhous, APSCUF's chapter president at West Chester University, also provided perspective on how the draft policy would affect the campus learning environment.
PASSHE will host a webcast on its proposed weapons policy this Thursday, January 9, at 10:00am. APSCUF president, Steve Hicks, will offer comments opposing the policy. Last May APSCUF's Executive Council adopted a formal statement on the policy, which reads:
APSCUF believes the best learning environment for students is one in which all members of the university community feel safe from the threat of violence. APSCUF believes that this is best secured by reliance on university security and police professionals. Given the free flow of traffic on a college campus to academic buildings, dormitories, and extracurricular events, APSCUF believes that the best policy remains one where deadly weapons are prohibited from campus (except as secured by university police). APSCUF further believes that prior to changing policies regarding deadly weapons, PASSHE and university officials should fully consult with all constituent groups in the campus community.
According to a media advisory issued by PASSHE, the webcast can be viewed on its website, www.passhe.edu. A panel of PASSHE officials will answer questions about the policy. You can submit comments and questions in advance via email to publicsafetytaskforce@passhe.
Today the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) released a report indicating that the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has been allowing the fourteen state-owned universities to mismanage their budgets by hiding debt in affiliated corporations, funding new construction based on questionable assumptions, and misleading the public about their financial difficulties.
APSCUF commissioned Boyer & Ritter, a Harrisburg-area accounting firm, to study the finances of the seven universities that claimed they needed to lay off faculty to balance their budgets: Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Kutztown, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock.
In every case, the accounting firm discovered that the university created affiliated entities or used foundations to take on debt for new construction.
“We are extremely troubled by the findings. The universities and the State System are mismanaging public dollars,” said Dr. Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF. “Every university is using a scheme to transfer debt to ‘component units,’ including the university foundations and student housing associations. Money that the public believes is dedicated to academics is instead going to these affiliates to pay for buildings.”
In many cases, the affiliated entities are taking on debt to pay for new dormitories and other lavish construction.
“Tuition, fees, and state support monies are regularly being transferred to these entities, both directly and indirectly,” Hicks stated. “The universities and the State System must be good stewards of the public dollar. Instead, their poor budgetary decisions are forcing students to double pay because universities are using both their tuition dollars and their fees to pay off debt on buildings. Our students, their families, and the public deserve to know how their money is actually being spent.”
The independent analysis of seven state-owned universities also concluded that there is a lack of oversight in State System budgeting practices.
“In terms of faculty layoffs,” Hicks pointed out, referring to the original impetus for commissioning the report, “Boyer & Ritter make it clear that the university budgets are just that – plural – and, therefore, it is hard to give credence to their budgetary claims. There are pages full of charts showing the wide divergence between the universities’ budgets and their actual collections and expenditures.”
The report states: “there appears to be minimal accountability for budgeting at the University level with the PASSHE Board of Governors.”
Hicks added, “There are no common statewide budgeting practices among the universities.”
The report also indicates that there is a demonstrable lack of quality budgeting: “in common practice once an oversight board…approves a budget, changes are not made without further oversight approval. Throughout…we noted various budget versions being utilized by each University.”
“Our universities continue to be in dire need of additional state funds, and it is clear that cuts to the system have led to some very bad decisions at universities,” Hicks commented. “We are concerned that PASSHE, the State System Board of Governors, and the individual universities’ Councils of Trustees have not exercised the fiduciary responsibility to oversee how the universities spend money.”
APSCUF has commissioned Boyer & Ritter to look at the financial statements for the other seven universities, as well.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties represents more than 6,000 faculty members and coaches at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities.