HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Education officials made their case to Democratic lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday. They were testifying in front of the House Democratic Policy Committee about the issues facing the state’s higher education system.
“Is it truly acceptable for an increasing number of students to be forced to make the awful decision between choosing food or books?” said Ken Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
According to Mash, housing costs at state universities have increased 50 percent in the last few years. He said last year, state funding per public student dropped 33 percent. Education officials say Pennsylvania’s working class colleges are no longer affordable.
“Our universities should be the engines of opportunity for the working class families in Pennsylvania,” said Mash.
According to a recent report released by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, state universities do a better job lifting students with family incomes in the bottom 60 percent and moving them to the top 40 percent than other universities in the state. However, the same report found state universities are educating 15 percent fewer students from the bottom 60 percent than they were a few years ago.
“As the state pointed out, Pennsylvania is 47th in the nation in terms of funding institutions of higher education. We probably need to step that up a little bit and make sure that everyone in Pennsylvania has access to an affordable, quality education,” Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) said.
Sturla says universities across the state have huge impacts on the state and local economy. He says letting them fail would basically wipe out towns.
“These are institutions that I want to make sure we save,” he said.
Mark Price is a labor economist for the Keystone Research Center. He told the committee more resources need to be put into the state schools. He said it would impact the state’s communities in the long run.
“Because of these rises in prices, they’ve really been effectively priced out in a way that other previous generations weren’t. When that happens, there is going to be less opportunity for those kids to rise up and become high-income adults,” Price said.
Democratic lawmakers say they’ll continue working to find a long-term strategy for Pennsylvania’s higher education system. The Republican Policy Committee said they do not have anything scheduled with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education at this time.