The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 16, 2014

College bill reflects big crises

HARRISBURG — Opening an escape hatch for universities to flee the state’s higher education system is an idea that doesn’t seem to have much support outside the southeast corner of Pennsylvania.  But lawmakers and education officials say that doesn’t diminish the enrollment and financial crisis facing those schools.

A dozen of the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education are enrolling fewer students. They are straining under two years of flat funding, which followed an 18 percent cut in state support during Gov. Tom Corbett’s first year in office, said system spokesman Kenn Marshall.

“We are dealing with enormous challenges,” Marshall said.

Sen. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, filed a bill this week to allow universities in the system with more than 7,000 students to be reclassified as “state-related” universities – like Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh or Temple University – which enjoy more autonomy.

Tomlinson is on the board of trustees at West Chester University, near Philadelphia, the largest university in the state system with an enrollment of close to 16,000. It and Bloomsburg University, in Columbia County, are the only two seeing growth in student numbers.

Tomlinson’s bill would allow universities to essentially buy their campuses – and autonomy – from the state. Proceeds from the sales would return to the state system of higher education to bolster the remaining universities. The proposal is scheduled for a hearing next month before the Senate Education Committee.

As state funding has diminished, Tomlinson said, so has the advantage of being in the state system.  That’s made the push for independence more attractive.

But that push appears limited.

Bloomsburg spokeswoman Rosalee Rush said officials there were not consulted by lawmakers who wrote the bill. Bloomsburg President David Soltz had not seen the legislation so wouldn’t comment, Rush said.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, whose district includes Bloomsburg, said he doesn’t believe the university should exit the state system.

Officials at Indiana University Pennsylvania were not part of the discussion of Tomlinson’s legislation, either, said spokeswoman Michelle Fryling. The enrollment at IUP is just under 15,000, making it the second-largest university in the system.

“We are proud members of the state system,” Fryling said.

State System Chancellor Frank Brogan, who took the helm six months ago, said the Tomlinson plan would mean higher tuition at any institution that takes the escape route.

“This would create an added burden for students and their families,” Brogan said in a statement. “Every university that leaves the state system could close another door to affordable, quality public higher education.”

Tuition at Penn State, Pitt and Temple runs about $10,000 a year more than tuition charged by universities in the state system.

The state system is also trying to give member universities the flexibility to adapt to their current problems, particularly since Brogan arrived, Gordner said.

Bloomsburg and the universities in Edinboro and Clarion have been approved for doctoral programs in nursing.

And Edinboro, which has seen its enrollment drop 18 percent since 2010-11, will soon allow out-of-state students to attend while paying only 5 percent more in tuition than Pennsylvania students, Marshall said. Out-of-state students typically pay 150 to 250 percent of the $6,622 tuition charged to in-state students.

The change is significant because it means tuition for Ohio students at Edinboro, in Erie County, will be less expensive than tuition at state universities in the eastern part of the Buckeye State, said Gordner. Tuition at Youngstown State in eastern Ohio is $8,087 this year, and tuition at Kent State is $9,816, according to tuition schedules on their websites.

Francis Miller, a finance major at Bloomsburg University, said raising rates at institutions in the state system would create problems for many students, even if their schools gain semi-independence.

“A lot of the students come here because of the tuition,” Miller said. With about 10,000 students, Bloomsburg is the third-largest university in the state system.

But Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester County, who co-sponsored the bill, said that without a drastic change, some of the struggling universities won’t survive.

An analysis by the senators, who support the bill, found that eight of the system’s universities lost money last year. West Chester made a profit of almost 10 percent, while Indiana University Pennsylvania made 6.96 percent and Kutztown made 5.87 percent. None of the others had year-end profits of more than 5 percent.

Cheney has lost money in four of the last five years, according to the analysis. Edinboro lost money in three of the last five years, leading up to painful cost-cutting last fall that laid off 42 professors and eliminated some foreign language programs.

But Edinboro officials believe their circumstances have been “mischaracterized,” said university spokesman Jeff Hileman.

“The university has taken appropriate action to address its challenges. The administration has identified a number of opportunities to strengthen it even further. And we are very excited about the future,” said Hileman.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty, said the Tomlinson plan would effectively destroy the state system as an affordable alternative to Penn State, Pitt and Temple. The union – which represents professors at universities in the state system – is dismissing the bill as the “Student Sellout Act.”

“What students, instead, would have left is a handful of small universities that have limited capacity and mounting financial issues, including a reduction in economies of scale that benefit state system universities,” Hicks told the House Democratic Policy Committee on Thursday.

Text Only
Local News
  • City zoners give nod to Speedway signs

    Speedway cleared a hurdle Thursday when city zoners granted a variance for signs at the company’s gas station and convenience store proposed for downtown Sharon.

    August 1, 2014

  • Retirement is definite, hiring replacement isn’t

    Farrell Fire Chief Joseph Santell will be retiring at the end of this year.

    August 1, 2014

  • Natural gas rates drop 5.6 pct.

    National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. on Thursday announced it lowered residential natural gas rates by 5.6 percent, effective today through October.

    August 1, 2014

  • Audit calls for better record-keeping policies

    The annual auditor’s report for the City of Farrell was presented by City Manager Michael Ceci to council members Monday.

    August 1, 2014

  • trout island trail paving Hot on the trail

    Work began last week to pave a section of the Trout Island Trail, replacing a crushed limestone surface.

    August 1, 2014 3 Photos

  • CIRT team in Jackson Center Man arrested after shooting standoff

    One Jackson Center man is recovering from a bullet wound, and the borough resident accused of shooting him sits in jail after a long night of drinking that state police say turned into a case of attempted homicide.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharon Speedway location City on track for new Speedway store

    Speedway is lining up its administrative and bureaucratic cones on plans for the gas station and convenience store chain to zoom into downtown Sharon.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Guards, county OK deal

    County officials and guards at the Mercer County Jail have reached a tentative contract agreement that, if approved, halts the idea of privatizing operations at the facility.

    July 31, 2014

  • Doss: Public has right to know

    A major part of Farrell council’s work session Monday was spent deciding whether or not to inform the audience about an unofficial police proposal from the City of Sharon.

    July 30, 2014

  • Budget falling short despite tax hike

    Farrell residents may have seen an income tax increase this year, but the city isn’t seeing the extra dollars City Manager Michael Ceci budgeted for.

    July 30, 2014

  • oakwood graves 1 Resting together

    Visitors to Oakwood Cemetery would see many  familiar local names if they looked down the hillside to the left just inside the gate on Sharon’s North Oakland Avenue.

    July 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • Police: Kids in car were OK

    The mother of two young children was drunk and passed out when police found them all in a car parked along a city street, Sharon police said.

    July 29, 2014

  • To talk – or not – about police

    The mysterious agenda item, “No. 10,” at Farrell’s council meeting Monday became the center of a heated workshop and business session.

    July 29, 2014

  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014