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Financial outlook bleak for 3 state system schools

Financial problems at three state-owned universities could leave their future in doubt without funding increases from Harrisburg, officials are warning.

The 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have struggled to get by on level funding for three consecutive years after an 18 percent budget cut, spokesman Kenn Marshall said on Saturday. He said Chancellor Frank Brogan identified Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield universities, which have eliminated programs and laid off employees, as being among the schools with the most serious challenges. Marshall said officials are not looking at closing any schools.

Brogan told lawmakers last week that if the revenue picture doesn’t change, the schools’ future “could be in doubt,” Marshall said.

“A lot of our universities are facing very serious financial situations right now,” he said.

The state system is seeking a 4 percent increase in its $412.8 million annual budget, equal to about $16 million, and a one-time $18 million appropriation to develop programs in high-demand fields such as health care and technology, he said.

Brogan warned the state House Appropriations Committee in a budget hearing last week that some schools in the system are struggling with falling student enrollments and students’ inability to pay higher tuition and fees, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg reported.

Clarion President Karen Whitney said Brogan seemed to be “sounding an alarm” over the consequences of the state’s lack of increased funding, but she said her school has a long-term plan to balance its budget by the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Clarion used $6.7 million from its reserves last year, and it will dip into them again this year. State funding makes up about 27 percent of its $97 million annual budget.

“Clarion University is working through some very difficult times, but we’re working through them quite well,” she said.

Edinboro President Julie Wollman said she was surprised that Brogan singled out her university because it has increasing interest in a number of its programs and recently received accolades from U.S. News & World Report‘s annual ranking of schools.

“I think it’s absurd,” Wollman said. “I don’t know why they would take any individual university and use them to posture, but the fact is that we are very strong and growing stronger.”

Edinboro cut staff to match lower enrollment and replaced low-demand programs with ones in more popular fields such as science, health, business and applied media arts, she said. The school relies on the state for less than a quarter of its $92 million budget, she added.

Wollman, who has been at Edinboro since June 2012, said level funding from the state amounts to a budget cut.

“Level funding in an environment where the costs for everything is going up is a cut; it’s declining funding,” she said. “We just have to adjust to that and figure out where our greatest needs are.”

Officials at Mansfield could not be reached for comment.

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or [email protected].


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