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Pennsylvania colleges balk at budget cuts

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March 29, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvanians are learning that the hardest part of righting a red-ling budget is deciding who gives up government services. With $4.2 billion in cuts to make before the Keystone State is back in the black, higher education was on the block.

Republican Governor Tom Corbett delivered a proposal that cut $554 million from state schools, a sum that triggered harsh blowback and has now led to a bipartisan legislative vow to lessen that sum in the final bill.[1]

On a frigid day, faculty members of Pennsylvania's schools testified while college students filled the capitol atrium, ready with signs and chants. In time with the comments of the committee members leading the hearing, the crowd jeered and cheered.

Even with salary freezes, Pennsylvania's schools will still need to hike tuition, the perfect combination to have staff and student alike in arms.

Those tuition increases, slightly over $2,000 a year for community colleges, would be the difference between earning a degree and forgoing college for students who tend to hail from lower-income families according to Chancellor John Cavanaugh. At a hearing last week, Cavanaugh made his case to largely sympathetic Senators, who backed him on calling to modify Governor Corbett's budget that would reduce community college funding by 54%.[2]

Cavanaugh's central argument was that salary and hiring freezes and staff cuts alone could not meet Corbett's budget; raising tuition for students would be unavoidable without lessening the proposed cuts.

Pennsylvania's Republicans have a commanding enough hold on the legislature to usher through one of Corbett's bills. The resistance means the governor may be in for a long fight, and a possible bitter defeat, over the extent to which he is asking the state's colleges and universities to help balance the budget.

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