1. Tuition rate hikes at PASSHE universities can generate negative media coverage for the Governor;2. Keeping PASSHE tuition rates artificially low, it was hoped by many Pennsylvania Governors, would force Penn State and the other “State-Related” universities to hold down their tuitions. That effort has been an abject failure on two scores: a) it failed to hold down state-related tuition rates; and b) the revenue lost to the PASSHE universities as a result of decisions based on political expediency rather than economics is responsible for the failure of the Board of Governors to deliver either end of PASSHE’s statutory purpose: high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.”
3. A third powerful private interest of governors from both parties wanting to keep PASSHE tuitions artificially low is their desire to avoid large financial losses from Pennsylvania’s 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan in which parents can purchase college credits at today’s rates for a newborn infant who won’t go to college for another 18 years. When those plans were first introduced across America, the economy was so strong and the return on investment was so high that a State could invest those dollars and more than make up for the growth in tuition when those tuition bills would have to be paid 18 years later. But since the economy slumped and returns on investment have fallen, many states are no longer accepting new applicants to their 529 programs because of the financial losses.¹
The Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU)
The powerful demographic forces described previously, combined with the economic downturn that followed the Great Recession, suggest strongly that the steady decline in State funding to “public higher education” is not likely to be reversed anytime soon, and that what ails the PASSHE Universities and the Students who rely on them will not be solved by wishing in vain for State dollars that, for good reason, are no longer available to those stakeholders who care about and depend upon public higher education.
In other words, in a democratic republic with majority rule, like ours, one sometimes ends up in the minority with regard to key public policy decisions—such as how best to spend limited taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, the 30% of American households that can now benefit directly from public higher education constitute a distinct minority as far as additional State funding is concerned.
For that reason PASCU’s approach to accomplishing its mission: “To ensure that the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania as specified by Act 188 of 1982: “High Quality Education at the Lowest Possible Cost to the Students,” is indefinitely preserved and faithfully delivered,” is not based on futile demands for more State money, but rather on legitimate demands for justice in terms of proper Majority Stakeholder representation on PASSHEs governance boards.
The 14 PASSHE universities are already 75% private—as far as funding is concerned. Those paying 75% of PASSHE’s bills need to have their voices heard by controlling a governance share on PASSHE’s Board of Governors and 14 Councils of Trustees roughly comparable to their funding share.
Privatization Without Representation
PASCU believes that the relentless privatization of public higher education in Pennsylvania and across America is inevitable due to powerful demographic and economic forces previously described.
But representation is a political matter, one that is subject to change through the ballot box as well as through the intervention of the Federal Courts. Three decades of ongoing “Privatization Without Representation” in Pennsylvania public higher education is just another name for tyranny.
But that awful tyranny is not inevitable if only the Majority Stakeholders decide to be heard, and stand up for themselves. That’s where PASCU comes in. PASCU seeks to become the legitimate voice of PASSHE’s Majority Stakeholders who are currently disenfranchised.
PASCU seeks to promote the legal rights of that segment of society which includes all PASSHE students, parents and donors, primarily alumni who, as a group have provided the majority of the annual funding to the PASSHE System and the fourteen PASSHE universities since 1992.According to published reports, 112,000 students currently attend PASSHE universities and 450,000 PASSHE alumni currently live in Pennsylvania.
There would clearly be no need for a non-profit organization of concerned citizens such as PASCU if, in fact, The Board of Governors were delivering high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students, as mandated by Act 188. But the Board of Governors is not delivering the Pennsylvania Promise and, for that reason, PASCU is desperately needed to help rectify that grave injustice.
Act 188 promises “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.” It is clear² from Chart 9 that students at the 14 PASSHE universities are getting a “dubious quality education” instead of a “high quality education” and, as Chart 20 shows,³ they are not getting it at anything like the “lowest possible cost to the students.” They are not even getting an “average” financial aid package, which would be an average of a distribution of financial aid packages, ranging from the best (i.e., at the lowest cost to the students) at one extreme, to the worst (i.e., at the highest cost to the students).In summary, the data show that both ends of public higher education's statutory purpose have suffered. Specifically, academic quality has been undermined, and twelve years of a politically expedient focus on the “lowest possible tuition,” i.e., “sticker price,” have failed to provide public higher education at anything like the “lowest possible cost to the students,” i.e., “bottom line”—as called for and mandated by Act 188. And, to make matters worse, PASSHE’s errant policy focus on “lowest possible tuition” saddles poor students with punishing debt and foolishly rewards wealthy students with state subsidies.⁴