President Neil D. Theobald made the case for commonwealth support for Temple University and took his message of reducing student debt and improving the four-year graduation rate to Harrisburg on Monday for a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.
"The most important point I wish to make to you today is that Temple University realizes that most of our revenue comes from either a family or a taxpayer," said Theobald in his first appearance before the House committee. "Going forward, we are determined to be responsible stewards of the public dollars that Temple is privileged to receive."
The president said the annual commonwealth appropriation is "the single most important factor in keeping tuition affordable" for Temple's students.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Corbett announced a budget plan that would keep the commonwealth appropriation level with the current year, which would mean $139.9 million for Temple. In return, leaders from the state-related schools (Temple, Lincoln University, the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University) agreed to hold tuition increases to levels as low as possible.
Temple was the only public school in Pennsylvania that did not raise its base tuition for the current year.
Theobald pointed out that the commonwealth appropriation has a direct impact on Temple students. "Temple uses this funding to discount tuition for its in-state undergraduate students by about $10,000 per student," he told elected officials.
At the same time, the university is taking strong steps to control costs and help students graduate with as little debt as possible. Theobald identified several initiatives that are helping students and their families, including cost containment, providing incentives to graduate in four years, creating new revenue streams and promoting financial literacy among students and their families "so they can make smart choices about budgeting, savings and debt."
The testimony before House leaders was different in tone than those of the last two years, when state revenues were down and the governor proposed significant cuts in support for higher education.
Majority House Appropriations Committee Chair William F. Adolph Jr. (R-Delaware Co.) thanked the presidents for their work during those difficult years, saying hard choices needed to be made and he acknowledged how difficult it was for the presidents to absorb those cuts. Adolph said the cuts were necessary, and his committee and the people of Pennsylvania know how important the state-related schools are.
"Unfortunately — very unfortunately — higher education took a tremendous hit" the last two years, Adolph said. "I don't believe you need to take any further hits."
Minority Chair Joseph F. Markosek (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland) went a step further, noting that higher education had taken a more than 19 percent reduction in its appropriation in two years. "I would suggest that when this commonwealth gets to the point when we're flat funding higher education, we're falling behind," Markosek said. "I think you should get more money."
"I think there are a lot of people up here, from both sides of the aisle, that aren't happy with flat funding for you this year. And we're going to do our best to try to get you more," said Markosek.
The Pennsylvania Cable Network carried the House testimony live and will also broadcast the testimony of the university leaders when they appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday.