Saturday, February 7, 2009

Funding for State Universities in PA

Given recent news regarding the state budget, I thought that I’d post an op-ed that I wrote 2 years ago. Recently, Governor Rendell asked each of the state owned universities to set aside over 4% of their current budget just in case the state wants it back. Yes, these are very difficult times and all parts of government need to sacrifice, but many taxpayers are unaware of the relationship between the various “public” colleges and universities in PA. At a time when state funding is being cut and the true state university system has no other choice but to let it affect quality, is it time to ask the wealthier “state-related” universities to dip into their endowments?

Excerpt from op-ed published in March 2007:

Along with all of the other consumers, property owners, and workers in the state, my tax dollars partially fund the education of students attending the 14 state-owned universities known as the State System for Higher Education (PASSHE). Our tax dollars also partially fund the education of students attending the 4 state-related universities, Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln as well as students attending select private institutions.

According to the Department of Education’s Summary of State Appropriations for February 2007 (available at, taxpayers spent approximately $465 million on the 14 state-owned universities (PASSHE), $644 million on the 4 state-related universities, and $83 million on select private colleges and universities. Based on published enrollment figures, PASSHE received approximately $4,266 per student. Penn State received approximately $4,093 in taxpayer dollars per student, Pitt received $4,941, Temple received $4,985, and Lincoln received $4,095 per student.

Taxpayers might not realize that although their tax dollars support the education of over 250,000 students, the institutions are not created equal. The University of Pittsburgh has the 8th largest endowment of any public university in the country at $1.6 billion and Penn State ranks 12th with an endowment over $1.2 billion according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.* Combined, Pitt, Penn State, and Temple have an endowment of over $3 billion, over $20,000 per enrolled student. PASSHE, the 14 state-owned universities, has a combined endowment of $209 million, approximately $1,900 per enrolled student.

All of these institutions provide tremendous benefits for the Commonwealth and the students who attend. Yet as budgets shrink and taxpayers demand more accountability, I feel it is important that taxpayers understand the economics and politics of higher education funding in the Commonwealth.

*Data from 2007

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