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State legislators to talk college affordability

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Higher education funding will be on the docket at the State Capitol today as legislators hear about the current funding problems for its 14-state owned universities. Some people worry that the decline in attendance at the state-owned schools could mean problems for the future of PA.

“We need to make college affordable. We need to provide opportunities. The answer can't be close down universities, merge universities, or cut out programs because every time you do that, you close opportunities for students,” said Dr. Kenneth Mash, President of the Association of Pennsylvania College and University Faculty.

The 14-state owned universities used to rely on state funding for about 75 percent of their budgets. With less money granted by state legislators, that number is more like 20 or 25 percent now, meaning less kids are able to go to school.

“In the end, the bills have to be paid. What we have seen over the years is a shift of the burden of cost from the Commonwealth to the students which makes it more difficult for families and students to achieve the American dream,” said Dr. Mash.

According to a recent report by the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania ranks 47 out of 50 states when it comes to funding higher education per capita. Since the beginning, the 14 state-owned universities like Shippensburg and Millersville in our area were charged with educating the working class families of PA. They have seen a great amount of success getting kids that came from the lower 60 percent of the family income bracket putting them into the upper 40 percent.

Funding for the state universities took a massive hit in 2011 when then Governor Tom Corbett and the legislature cut their money by 18 percent. Now, there are talks about possibly closing some of the schools where enrollment is low. But these are mostly schools in lower income areas and Dr. Mash thinks this will hurt these students the worst.

“Students should not have to take on debt for decades. When they do have to take on that type of debt, we’re ultimately hurting the Commonwealth. Those people can’t buy a car, buy a house. All of their money is going to the bank,” Dr. Mash said.

Governor Tom Wolf is proposing a two percent increase in state funding this year. While this is appreciated, Dr. Mash says even if it's approved by the legislature, that would bring the state system up to funding levels equal to 1999.

He worries that Pennsylvania's economy will suffer with less qualified, educated students being available to enter the workforce in the future.

The Pennsylvania House Policy Committee will hold the hearing today beginning at 10 a.m. They will hear from three experts from the State System, APSCUF and the Keystone Research Center.

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