State-Related Universities Provide Financial Benefit to Students, Taxpayers

An Op-Ed by State Senator Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte)

In the weeks since Governor Corbett’s budget address, much debate has centered on the proposed budget cuts.  Unfortunately, the Commonwealth’s current fiscal challenges promise to be painful for all.  We need to make tough budgetary decisions to reduce costs and must demand accountability from programs where we invest taxpayer money. Every line item in the budget needs to be reviewed for its effectiveness.

Specifically, there has been quite a bit of discussion regarding the state-related universities: Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University.  The majority of this debate has questioned the impact these cuts will have on the universities, with proponents focused on how large these universities are and on their ability to absorb the cut.

I would like to take a step back and offer another perspective that I feel has just as much merit in the current debate: the financial benefit these four universities provide to students and taxpayers.

Living 10 miles from Penn State’s main campus, I may be viewed as having a biased opinion. This may be a correct assumption, not just because of where I live, but because I have three young children who I plan to assist in affording college tuition when their time comes. That being said, I believe that if we look at what the state, students, and parents get in return for our investment, it is very hard to argue that we are receiving a benefit that can be easily replaced:  discounted education at exceptional schools.

As taxpayers, we invest approximately $650 million a year in the four state-related universities. In return, these schools offer in-state tuition to Pennsylvania residents at a discount. Penn State University’s in-state tuition is roughly $14,500 a year, University of Pittsburgh’s is $14,000, and Temple University’s is $11,500. Out-of-state tuition costs approximately $27,000 for Penn State University, $24,000 for the University of Pittsburgh, and $22,000 for Temple University.  Without Commonwealth assistance, it would be impossible for these universities to provide the in-state tuition discount, which saves each Pennsylvania student approximately $10,000 a year.

A recent independent investigation showed that Pennsylvania students receive over a billion dollars in subsidy from these schools for the $650 million investment the taxpayers make. When compared to private sector schools in Pennsylvania, we can see that our return on investment is beneficial.  Bucknell and Lycoming universities’ annual tuition costs are over $40,000 a year, and Lebanon Valley College tuition exceeds $30,000 a year.  Schools located across the street from the University of Pittsburgh, like Duquesne University, cost almost $30,000 a year, and Carnegie Mellon University’s annual tuition exceeds $40,000. In Philadelphia, Drexel University’s tuition exceeds $30,000.  These private universities offer no in-state tuition discount like those given at state-related and state-owned institutions.

I believe it is difficult to argue that the cost of in-state tuition at Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities is not competitive with some of our best private universities. I also believe that a degree from these four schools is every bit as good in the marketplace.

At the end of the day, we as a Commonwealth have to determine whether public higher education is important to us. That debate will continue, I am sure, well after this budget has been passed and signed by the Governor. What is not arguable is whether we as taxpayers are receiving a good return on our investment.

Therefore, the question we have left is not whether Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln can afford such a cut. Clearly, as large institutions, they can. The question we need to answer is can our future students and parents afford it?

Senator Jake Corman (R—Bellefonte) represents the 34th Senatorial District, which includes all of Juniata, Perry and portions of Centre, Mifflin, and Union Counties. He is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He also serves as a member of the Banking and Insurance, Education, Rules and Executive Nominations, and State Government Committees.
Mark Meyer