February 5, 2013
By Seth Zweifler
In a departure from recent funding trends, Penn and its peer public institutions will likely avoid the state budget axe for the upcoming fiscal year.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett rolled out his initial budget for the 2014 fiscal year on Tuesday, proposing flat funding for both Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the statewide higher education system.
If Corbett’s higher education plan makes its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly unchanged, Penn Vet will receive $27.9 million from the state in FY 2014, which begins July 1. The school also received $27.9 million during FY 2013.
In addition to this, $248,000 will be allocated to the school’s Center for Infectious Diseases.
These numbers stand in contrast to last year’s budget, when Corbett had proposed slashing the school’s funding by 5 percent from the initial FY 2012 budget.
Because of a budget freeze midway through FY 2012, Penn Vet ultimately received $26.5 million that year.
Penn officials expressed satisfaction with Corbett’s budget proposal on Tuesday.
“We appreciate the governor’s recognition of the importance of the Commonwealth’s only school of veterinary medicine,” President Amy Gutmann said in a statement. “We recognize that this is the first step in a long process to negotiate a state spending plan for FY 2014, and we look forward to working with the General Assembly on funding for the important education, research and service that Penn and Penn Vet deliver.”
Penn Vet added in a statement that it considered the proposed appropriation to be a “tremendous vote of confidence in our critical role in education, research and agriculture.”
In the past, Penn Vet Dean Joan Hendricks has told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the annual state appropriation marks the largest component of the school’s operating revenue.
That revenue, however, has taken a major hit over the past six years.
In FY 2008, Penn Vet received $39.5 million from the state. Tuesday’s proposed budget marks a nearly 30-percent decrease from that level.
“It’s certainly disappointing that we apparently haven’t successfully made the case for the importance of veterinary medicine in the public health arena,” third-year Vet student Melissa Ogg said.
According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, this budget shortfall is not unique to Penn. An AAVMC report released in February 2012 showed that the nation’s 28 schools and colleges of veterinary medicine have seen cuts of $104 million in state appropriations over the past two years.
During Tuesday’s budget announcement, Corbett also outlined his plans to preserve funding for the state university system at the same amount as the current fiscal year. Last year, schools like Temple and Penn State universities had faced potential 30-percent cuts before their funding was ultimately restored.
Corbett said that, in exchange for the state system’s steady budget, individual university presidents have agreed to work to keep tuition increases as low as possible for students.
While Graduate School of Education professor Joni Finney acknowledged that the budget proposal marks a small victory, she does not believe Corbett has done enough to plan for the long-term future of higher education funding in the state.
“It’s still very short-term thinking, very year-to-year planning,” she said. “The governor doesn’t seem to have a sense of the educational needs of Pennsylvania, in terms of what finances colleges and universities need to address their missions.”
While it is unlikely that Corbett’s tuition agreement with state schools will impact a private university like Penn, 1989 GSE alumnus Steven Goodman believes that the University may feel a bit of added pressure to limit tuition hikes because of what peer institutions in the state are doing.
However, Goodman, a Top Colleges educational consultant, emphasized that the University likely feels an equal – if not greater – amount of pressure to continue increasing annual tuition because of trends among Ivy League schools.
“If an elite private school like Penn started to cut back on tuition increases, that would make a big difference for the public sector,” Finney added. “It would send a strong message about their willingness to maintain cost, to make higher education more affordable for everyone.”