A Pitt Student’s Take on Corbett’s Budget Proposal

Guest Commentary

Gov. Tom Corbett released a budget proposal last month that would reduce state funding to four state-related universities by about half. Under this proposal, the University of Pittsburgh would receive $80.2 million next year, in sharp contrast to the $160.5 million it received this year.

Within hours of this budget proposal becoming public, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg emailed students, claiming that the budget cuts would not only impose a “severe and unfair burden on our students and their families” but also “undermine economic growth in Pennsylvania.” Nordenberg made it clear that the University will orchestrate student protests and a massive lobbying effort to defeat Corbett’s proposed budget.

As a Pitt student, I will not be joining in those manufactured protests, nor will I be participating in lobbying activities like Pitt’s yearly “Harrisburg Day” when the University spends tuition money to send busloads of students and administrators to the state capitol to lobby for increased funding. Indeed, as a Pitt student, I think that Corbett is doing the right thing.

As a senior at Pitt, I’ve seen tuition increase each year beyond the rate of inflation, even when the University had secured significant state funding. Whatever Corbett did, tuition was going to increase again for Pitt students next year by some five percent.

While I’ve seen tuition increase every year at Pitt, I’ve also seen the quality of education decrease. I’ve seen class sizes expand, I’ve witnessed a greater reliance on adjuncts rather than tenured faculty and I’ve encountered professors whose basic factual knowledge of their subject is lacking.

Certainly, I’ve also been lucky enough to have some truly outstanding teachers during my time at Pitt, but their talents go consistently unrewarded by a university system that values seniority and publishing over teaching. For this reason, my best teachers are lecturers who are paid less than their tenured, full-professor counterparts who do little teaching themselves.

The root of Pitt’s problem is not that the commonwealth isn’t providing Pitt with enough taxpayer dollars, but that Pitt is no longer an institution dedicated to teaching. Instead, like many institutions of higher education in our country today, Pitt has become, in part, a playground for young people seeking to avoid the real world for four (or five or six) years. Indeed, the amount of money that Pitt spends on concerts, carnivals and golf simulators speaks directly to this point.

This isn’t to say that many Pitt students are not dedicated to learning or to realizing a career that requires extensive education. Many are. That being said, many students who attend Pitt, and universities around the country, do so because college has become a societal-mandated four years of socialization, and the flood of taxpayer subsidies encourage students, even those whose career goals don’t require a college degree, to go to college anyway.

Societal pressure for every young person to attend college does a disservice to taxpayers who foot the bill for much of the experience, but also to millions of young people who incur thousands of dollars in debt and never finish their degree or graduate with a degree that they will not use. After all, half of all college students never graduate and one-third drop out during the first year, U.S. News and World Report reported.  While Pitt students fair a bit better, still one-quarter won’t earn a degree after six years.

There is nothing wrong with individuals attending college for the social experience or universities providing entertainment to their student body, so long as it is the students and the institution that fund these activities. The use of taxpayer dollars to encourage enrollment and to allow colleges to become bastions of entertainment, does a disservice to college students and a disservice to taxpayers.

Gov. Corbett’s budget is not perfect, but reducing universities’ reliance on taxpayers is a step in the right direction. Those who have portrayed Corbett’s budget as an assault on higher education fail to recognize that institutions such as Pitt are no longer primarily educational institutions but instead insulated communities putting too many resources into entertainment, socialization and self-aggrandizement.

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Giles Howard is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and the President of The Publius Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan student think tank.