High Costs of Higher Education: Reforming How Pennsylvania Taxpayers Finance Colleges and Universities

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Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has long been considered a leader in higher education, touting a publicly supported system that includes community colleges, state, state-related, and state-aided universities.  However, as with all large institutions, a number of serious problems exist. 

Despite significant increases in state appropriations and financial aid programs, higher education is less affordable today than it has ever been.

This policy brief addresses the fundamental, deep-seated problems that have made higher education unaffordable for students and unaccountable to taxpayers, and it recommends five reforms that will make Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities more responsive to the needs of students and less expensive for both families and taxpayers. 

The five specific higher education reforms include:

  1. Immediately halting all state higher education subsidies and making any increase contingent upon freezes in tuition costs and greater spending transparency for taxpayers.
  2. Replacing direct state subsidies to universities with scholarship grants to students.
  3. Holding students, colleges, and universities accountable for the taxpayer support they receive.
  4. Re-focusing all state institutions on teaching, rather than research.
  5. Considering a re-organization of state higher education, including the possibility of severing the taxpayers’ financial support to state, state-related, and state-aided universities.

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The Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org) is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.