Bend Over For Budget Cuts

By Kelly Haugh

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett released his budget proposal March 8, and education funding was on the chopping block.  The immediate reaction from the media and the public was outrage.  University officials throughout the state were quick to cry foul and voice their concerns about increased tuition and the impact on students.  While I believe there are better things to slice from the budget than education, like the bloated salaries of all the fat cat legislators, I think Corbett also has a point.

“This fiscal crisis is a time to rethink state spending on higher education,” he said during his budget address. “Despite state subsidies on higher education, tuition has continued to increase. If the intent was to keep tuition rates down, we failed.”

Every year we have to pay more for the privilege of receiving an education from one of Pennsylvania’s fine state schools, and don’t even try to pretend that’s only to make up for inflation and cost of living increases.  So why is every state school suddenly acting like the sky is falling and a tuition hike is news?  It’s because now universities will have a bad guy to blame when students and parents complain.  They have basically been given a green light to jack up the price as high as they want, because now they have a fall guy.

The budget cuts provide their tuition increases with a thin veil of legitimacy to hide behind, just like the greedy gas companies who rake in record profits year after year while inflating prices every time there’s a hiccup in the Middle East.  Yeah, I’m sure they’re just passing on their increased OPEC costs to the consumer, just like the universities will do with Corbett’s budget cuts.  As Corbett pointed out to KDKA Radio, Penn State has received $3.5 billion in state funding since 2000 and, during that same time period, they’ve more than doubled tuition, illustrating once again the disconnect between tuition hikes and real world causes.

The truth is, Penn State’s state funding will be cut in half.  However, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, state funding only makes up between 8 and 9 percent of the school’s total costs, so it’s really only losing around 4.5 percent of its funding.  It doesn’t sound quite as devastating when put in that perspective, especially given the toilet the economy is in right now.  Yet Penn State President Graham Spanier said the budget cuts might even force the school to close some campuses, according to a March 10 article in the Valley News Dispatch.  That seems to be taking it a little far.

Consider, for a moment, that Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said that any budget can be cut by 10 percent.  His actual solution to balancing a budget was to cut 10 percent across the board and let each individual department figure out how to deal with the reduced funds.  Penn State’s proposed 4.5 percent loss is well within that 10 percent range, so one would think this group of “educated people” should be able to make this trimmed down budget work without killing their students.

Corbett asked virtually the same question on KDKA, wondering why the universities seemed intent on causing panic instead of looking for an effective solution.  “Why would you put it on the backs … of the students and scare the students and the parents without saying, ‘Wait a second. That means we have to cut 4 percent – not 50 percent – 4 percent of our operating budget. Let’s go see if we can do that first before we start talking about tuition increases.’”

Corbett went on to further criticize Penn State’s board of directors, who will be holding their next board meeting in the heart of New York City at the luxurious Helmsley Hotel.  It’s nice to know where all those tuition hikes have been going.  Just once it’d be nice to see the bellyaching university elite trimming those bloated amenities that do nothing for the student instead of skyrocketing tuition so they can live it up on our dimes, but we all know that will never happen.  The university’s position is clear, and Penn State students had better get ready to bend over.

[Editor’s note: This online version of the article contains corrections for errors made in the print version.]

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