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Shapiro’s Higher Ed Plan Would Change How Pitt Gets Funded
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 02/12/2024

In his inaugural budget address last year, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said the state’s higher education system was broken and set up a task force to develop a new plan for the state-owned and state-related schools, of which Pitt is one.

He released an outline of the new blueprint for Pennsylvania higher education two weeks ago and added more details in his budget address on Feb. 5.

The most striking change would involve putting the 10 state-owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools and 15 community colleges under one organization. This new system will preserve local leadership, Shapiro said, but is intended to improve communication and pathways between the schools and create the least expensive way to get a college degree in the state.

For Pitt and the three other state-related universities — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — the biggest change, if approved by the legislature, would be the method by which annual funding is approved.

Currently, funding for the four schools is a non-preferred appropriation, which is voted on separately from the main budget bill and requires a two-thirds majority for approval. With the House closely divided politically — control rests with the Democrats for now, but the numbers have been tied several times this year because of vacancies — and Republicans in control of the Senate, funding for the state-related schools has frequently been caught in the political fight between the two sides.

The governor’s new plan would put funding for the state-related schools in the Department of Education budget, which only requires a simple majority for passage.

In addition, Shapiro is proposing “a predictable, transparent, outcomes-based funding system that will apply to schools in the new system and our state-relateds.”

• The measurable outcomes in this plan would “benefit all Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said in his speech. These include:

• Increasing the number of first-generation college students enrolled.

• Ensuring more students stay in Pennsylvania after graduation.

• Emphasizing students go into the fields the state needs, like agriculture, education and nursing.

• Developing transparency and increased accountability for tax dollars.

This system of outcomes-based funding would be developed over the next year with input from the General Assembly and higher education leaders, Shapiro said. Then next year, Shapiro said he’ll come back to lawmakers seeking $279 million to directly offset costs for Pennsylvania college students.

For those at state-owned and community colleges, it would mean no student or family making the median income or below will have to pay more than $1,000 per semester for tuition and fees. For students at the state-related schools or private institution, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grants would increase by $1,000 to $6,750 per semester.

“If we pass my plan and make the investments that I lay out in my budget, we would jump from 49th (in funding for higher education) in the nation today to 22nd in just five years,” the governor said. Pennsylvania also currently ranks 48th in higher education affordability.

In a statement on the governor’s website, Pitt Chancellor Joan Gabel, who was on the task force, said: “We thank Governor Shapiro for his leadership in putting forth an innovative blueprint to give Pennsylvania students greater opportunities for affordable, high-quality higher education and to bolster the role of colleges and universities like Pitt in driving Pennsylvania’s economic success.”

Pitt Senate President Robin Kear said she appreciated Shapiro’s “continued support of the state-related universities in the Commonwealth, and I applaud the efforts to increase funding to education more generally. I agree with efforts to centralize the state support for Pitt into a more predictable model. A predictable model of funding would bring greater certainty to Pennsylvania families with students at Pitt and other state-related institutions.”

Funding for 2024-25

The governor’s plan outlines increased funding next year, but what about his plan for the upcoming fiscal year?

His budget includes a 5 percent funding increase for the state-related universities. Last year, Shapiro asked for a 7 percent increase in state funding for the four schools. The legislature didn’t vote to approve that part of the budget until November and kept the amount at the same level it’s been since 2019.

“We're grateful for Gov. Josh Shapiro’s continued support of the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania’s students and families,” a Pitt spokesman said. “Pitt looks forward to working with the Shapiro administration and the legislature to enact a higher education plan that delivers for students and puts Pennsylvania on a path to a more competitive workforce and a more robust economy.”

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