HARRISBURG – Reps. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Franklin/Fulton), chairman of House Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education, and Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Education, held a joint hearing this morning on higher education funding in Pennsylvania.
The 2021-22 budget allocates more than $1.86 billion to support higher education, including funding for: The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE); state-related universities of Penn State University, The University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Lincoln University, and Penn Veterinary School (Penn Vet); community colleges; and grants for students through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).
Held at the state Capitol, the hearing’s testifiers included:
• Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Nathan Hench, Guaranty and Strategy, PHEAA.
• Dean Andrew Hoffman and Vice Dean Robert Schieri, Penn Vet.
• Vice President Charles Gradowski, Finance and Administration, Lincoln University.
• Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Hari Sastry, University of Pittsburgh.
• Interim Treasurer David Marino, Temple University.
• Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones, Pennsylvania State University.
• Chancellor Dr. Daniel Greenstein and Chief Financial Officer Molly Mercer, PASSHE.
“Our focus today was on public dollars earmarked for higher education; where the money goes and how it is used,” said Topper. “Providing this oversight ensures our investment in our institutions and its students is being spent prudently and in the best manner possible.”
“With this much funding being allocated to higher education, it was only appropriate that the state Legislature took a deep dive. Our primary duty is to make sure we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Mihalek. “We want accountability and transparency for the public when we’re talking about five cents of every dollar spent in Pennsylvania. The public deserves to know how this money is being used and how it benefits students. I thank PASSHE, PHEAA and our state-run schools for helping us to have a better understanding as to how allocated funding from the General Assembly is used.”
Testifiers focused on this funding being used to keep higher education accessible and affordable for all students, especially those who reside in the Commonwealth. Since these schools work in partnership with the Commonwealth, in-state tuition is discounted greatly compared to out-of-state rates and it helps to keep the discount rates flat year after year.
Another focus was that these state-run universities have been able to manage their cost structure better in recent years. Marino stated that by better aligning their cost structure with changing demographics, Temple University has been able to cut its operating budget in five of the past 10 years, eliminating $136.4 million from the annual operating budget.
Sastry emphasized that the University of Pittsburgh has had modest tuition increases and has invested in several critical initiatives aimed at reducing student debt. “The Pitt Success Pell Match Program was introduced in 2019 and marked the greatest restructuring of financial aid in the university’s history,” Sastry said. The program helps students and families with the greatest financial need pay for college by maximizing the power of this federal program by matching student Pell Grants dollar for dollar.
Hoffman and Schieri thanked the state on behalf of Penn Vet for their support since 1889, four years after the school was founded. “Without the state’s support, Penn Vet would not exist in the form it does today,” said Hoffman. “It would not be able to discount tuition for in-state students, nor would it be able to provide its breadth of services to residents and industry, most notably agriculture, which as you know is regarded as Pennsylvania’s largest industry.”
Hench, on behalf of PHEAA, took pride in the organization being able to offer higher education assistance while minimizing students reliance on loan debt. PHEAA offers a variety of student aid programs for the Commonwealth, the largest being the PA State Grant Program, and many outreach services that millions of residents have relied upon to successfully navigate the student aid application process.
Representative Jesse Topper
78th Legislative District
Representative Natalie Mihalek
40th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives