While there's been a lot of focus recently on K-12 school funding cuts in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania higher education has experienced even larger state funding cuts in percentage terms. Pennsylvania's starting point for investing in higher education, moreover, was already near the bottom.
The list of poor rankings that reflect Pennsylvania's underinvestment in higher education is somewhat mind blowing.
For example, Pennsylvania is 48th for investment in higher education per capita.
Pennsylvania has seen the fifth largest decrease in higher education funding since 2010-11, including a $90 million cut – 18% -- from funding for the state's cheapest four-year college option, the state-owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities.
Pennsylvania has the third-highest tuition and fees at public four-year colleges; we have the seventh-highest tuitiion for our community colleges.
We have the third-highest student debt among graduates from four-year colleges. While that ranking for average debt includes graduates of private and state-related schools (Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln), the average debt of graduates from state-owned PASSHE universities is almost as high -- right around $30,000.
Pennsylvania is 41st for the share of adults (25 to 64 years of age) that have more than a high-school education. That's up from 45th or 46th a decade or so ago but we've been stuck around 41st since 2010.
Pennsylvania's rural regions suffer the most from the state's underinvestment in higher education, with 26 counties having little or no access to community college. One positive sign: Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25), the president pro tem of the Senate, has been a leader in addressing this issue, which could open the door to bipartisan progress in the future.
Pennsylvania's low spending is short-sighted because investment in higher education pays off handsomely for states and for individuals.
- According to the Milken Institute, each one year of additional average education beyond high school is associated with a more than 17% increase in both GDP per capita and wages.
- College-educated workers earn hourly wages more than three-quarters higher than workers with only a high-school degree and also have an unemployment rate half or less of the unemployment rate of less-educated groups.
In sum, when we shortchange investment in higher education, we shortchange ourselves.
Interestingly, the top four states for investment in higher education are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and New Mexico. Four resource-rich states that use some of their mineral wealth to invest in higher education. Perhaps there's a lesson there.