Hope for University Administrators, or Taxpayers?

Tracie Mauriello of the Post-Gazette has a story today with the headline “Legislators offer hope to university administrators.”  There, she quotes several state senators who say they hope to “deal with [higher education] a little bit more fairly,” “continue to work on this,” and “put education at a higher level of priority.”  The article later says, “For Pitt and Penn State, the proposed cuts amount to about 20 percent of the overall instructional budget and could force the elimination of core programs.”

The senators are certainly correct that we should deal with higher education and all areas of the state budget fairly, that there is a lot more work to be done on the budget, and that education is a huge priority for Pennsylvania.  But they and their colleagues mustn’t be fooled by political stunts.

For example:  Talk of a fiscal Armageddon notwithstanding, the cut Gov. Corbett proposed for Penn State is only four percent of the university’s budget.

Most importantly, the people who really need “hope” right now are taxpayers, our legislators’ constituents, who continue to be hammered by an economy that’s forcing cuts much bigger than four percent in many of their budgets.

The best way to respect both taxpayers and the educational institutions we all agree are a priority is to demand that they act on the plentiful evidence that they have much work to do when it comes to cutting cost and improving quality.

Here’s one taxpayer speaking for himself:  No institution that doubled tuition over the course of a decade, has hired administrators like nobody’s business, admits it isn’t fully utilizing its buildings, brags about not asking students to go to class at 8 a.m., doesn’t require college-level math, or has policies that violate the First Amendment is going to get a blank check from me.  And each of those statements describes a Pennsylvania public university that is now crying poverty.