Cal U Waste Begs for Higher Ed Reform

The Senate’s budget included more funding for state universities than Governor Corbett proposed, but new discoveries of wasteful spending should give lawmakers pause.

Gov. Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut to state-related schools, such as Penn State, and a 20 percent cut to state-system schools such as Shippensburg and California University in his February budget proposal.

In exchange for a full restoration of funds, state schools agreed to hold tuition increases to inflation (3.2 percent). But this should be taken in context, considering tuition at Penn State and Pitt doubled over the past decade. The truth is, increasing or even maintaining higher ed subsidies will do little to address rising tuition.

As Senator Corman admitted:

I think the governor’s made a good case over the last year or so that higher reimbursement from the state doesn’t necessarily mean lower tuition, but we wanted to make sure it did.

So what is driving up tuition? Part of the answer is wasteful spending. The firing of long-time California University of Pennsylvania president Angelo Armenti Jr. highlights a culture of wasteful spending and irresponsible borrowing.

Under his leadership, the school built a 6,500 seat convocation center with the help of a $19.1 million grant from state taxpayers. Project mistakes and overruns ballooned the price tag to $59 million, and debt service on the project next year alone will total $2.5 million. The audit spurred by complaints also discovered the university spent $16,000 to purchase a new refrigerator and freezer for the President’s home.

Stories like these have motivated Rep. Brad Roae to introduce a new package of bills aimed at prohibiting wasteful spending.

Roae’s Keep Tuition Affordable Plan presents ten bills designed to reduce tuition and increase the efficiency of state-system schools. His plan includes:

  • A moratorium on non-emergency construction;
  • Requiring full-time professors to teach at least 15 credit hours;
  • Prohibiting a ban on cost-saving part-time professors;
  • Freezing PASSHE tuition next year;
  • Making student activity fees optional;
  • Ending free tuition for family members of employees; and
  • Redirecting state aid to student grants.

The final and most important bill would distribute subsidies to students rather than institutions, a more effective way of reducing college cost. Legislators need to restructure public university funding in order to create more value to university students, parents, and taxpayers.