June 22, 2022

THE WAY WE SEE IT: New PASSHE School Funding Formula Doesn’t Solve Long-Term Problems | Opinion

JThe Pennsylvania State Higher Education System (PASSHE) last week approved a new formula for allocating state funding for core operations related to expenses associated with running the 14 public schools.

Although the change in formula has the merit of maintaining the financial stability of the institutions, the distribution allocations do not solve the serious long-term problems facing the system.

Declining enrollment is the biggest problem and there is no serious plan in place to reverse this trend. The system has shrunk by 29,573 students (minus 25%) since the start of the 2011 academic year.

The enrollment issues facing the PASSHE system are economics—simple supply and demand issues. There are empty desks in classrooms, vacancies in halls of residence, and enough professors on staff to instruct additional students. An effective plan to bring the system back to its previous enrollment record is needed.

The campuses have excellent faculty and facilities that have served the educational needs of the Commonwealth for over 150 years. Taxpayers, elders and the communities in which they operate have invested and continue to invest heavily in their success.

How did the PASSHE system get here? The system failed to identify trends.

For example, primary school enrollment in the Commonwealth began to decline over a decade ago. When 92% of PASSHE enrollment comes from the state, that means your future consumer base (in this case, students) won’t be what it used to be.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students enrolled exclusively in distance education, such as online degree programs, increased 24%, from 2.6 million to 3.3. million between 2012 and 2016. This created competition.

While the PASSHE system offered distance learning, the offerings did not keep pace with national growth trends or mitigate the decline in traditional enrollment.

Now is the time to develop a practical and business-like approach to attracting students to PASSHE campuses. This is primarily to ensure that the system meets the future employment needs of our residents.

More than a century ago, Pennsylvania needed teachers. PASSHE was created as a system of teachers’ colleges to provide educators to school systems across the state.

The generations of teachers produced by the system have made, and still make, Pennsylvania a leader in public schools in the nation.

This same concern for meeting the needs of the State is necessary now. This goal begins with finding ways to reduce the costs of a traditional education. Establish tuition and fee structures that working-class families can afford, without crippling debt. Tuition fees should be competitive with online degree programs. Over the past 15 years, tuition fees in the system have skyrocketed and are out of proportion to normal inflationary increases.

With the continued decline in enrollment, there is a need to create incentives to attend college in Pennsylvania. These incentives could include:

  • Upon completion of a four-year degree at any of the PASSHE institutions, the individual’s state income tax would be forgiven for the first five years of employment in the Commonwealth. This would benefit the state in two ways: it would help students pay off their college debts and eliminate some of the brain drain we are experiencing by ensuring that some of our best and brightest young residents leave the ‘State.
  • Eliminate out-of-state tuition. This allows the system to attract out-of-state students away from attending private colleges or public universities elsewhere that have milder climates, growing populations, and lower costs of living.

It’s time for our legislators and educators to work together to find innovative solutions to make PASSHE the thriving system it once was.