Pa. Colleges May See Major Budget Cuts
Though Penn as a whole remains relatively unscathed, Penn Vet may be directly impacted
By Shelli Gimelstein
While public universities are facing the brunt of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, Penn may also be affected by reductions in higher education spending.
In Corbett's proposed budget - which was released earlier this week - Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine will receive $26.5 million for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012. This marks a 5-percent decrease from Penn Vet's $27.9 million received in last year's initial budget, which was later reduced due to a statewide funding freeze in December.
However, the amount of proposed funding for FY 2013 is the same as what Penn received after the freeze.
Additionally, Corbett has proposed allocating $236,000 to the Vet School's Center for Infectious Disease - a slight reduction from the $248,000 it received at the start of the FY 2012 budget.
"It's clear that the state has a budget shortfall, so the Commonwealth faces significant economic challenges," Penn President Amy Gutmann said. "From our perspective, the most important thing is that the Vet School - which contributes so much to the state - remains funded."
However, according to Graduate School of Education professor Joni Finney, the larger story with Corbett's budget is its inclusion of major cuts to public institutions throughout the state.
Corbett has proposed cutting funds for three of the state's largest public universities - Penn State and Temple universities, as well as the University of Pittsburgh - by 30 percent compared to last year's totals. Similar cuts have also been proposed for smaller state-owned schools.
Additionally, the cuts will include $400 million from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which provides financial assistance to college students.
Corbett's plans have drawn mixed reactions from college presidents and higher education experts in general.
"It seems like there's no plan - it's just sort of a slice-and-burn approach to state policy," Finney said. "I understand that [Corbett] has to balance a budget, and higher education has to feel some pain. But we have to do this in a way that makes sense, and really prepares us for the future."
However, Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus, views the state budget cuts as a rational response to rising college costs.
"There needs to be some way of controlling college costs, and if state legislators keep throwing money at schools, there will be no political pressure on those institutions to keep costs from skyrocketing," he said. "Sometimes, you have to make the tough decisions."
In order to address the issue of college affordability, Corbett earlier this week announced the formation of a 30-person panel - which will include Gutmann, among other college and business leaders - to advise him on current policies, procedures, regulations and legislation in higher education. The committee's findings will be due on Nov. 15.
"We are charged to advise the governor on the issues of affordability of higher education, which is something I've championed and cared very much about," Gutmann said. "I think Penn is a model for that."
Finney, though, is concerned that the committee's recommendations may not be factored into budgetary considerations for the next fiscal year.
"If the panel can't do anything until the next fiscal year, then a lot of damage has been done," she said. "I have a great deal of concern why the panel was announced now and not earlier, when we've known that these cuts were coming."
Along with the proposed cuts, there has also been a reshuffling of where funds will be allocated from.
While Penn Vet's financial support previously came directly from the Department of Agriculture, it will now be classified under the state's Race Horse Development Fund, which contains revenues raised from gaming.
Department of Agriculture spokesperson Samantha Krepps said this shift has been proposed "because the money was available [in the new fund] and we wanted to use it for agricultural purposes."
"We appreciate that Governor Corbett recognizes the importance of Penn Vet to public health and safety as well as to the Commonwealth's largest industry - agriculture," Penn Vet Dean Joan Hendricks said in a statement. "We understand that Governor Corbett and the General Assembly face difficult challenges in finalizing this year's budget. We are appreciative for their support of Penn Vet during this process."
According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, $104 million in state funding has been cut from the nation's 28 veterinary schools over the past two years.
While Gutmann remains watchful of how the budgeting process will unfold, she is confident in the support Penn will receive from both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg.
"We can't expect [funding] to go up, given the Commonwealth's budget situation, nor can we easily cope at all if there are dramatic cuts," she said.