May. 13, 2022

Our state-owned universities and the affordable, quality education they provide are critical for western Pennsylvania students and rural economies. The ongoing redesign of our state system has been a success and the Legislature must do its part by investing in it so students can get jobs here and build lives in our region.

A few years ago, the system, which includes Edinboro, Clarion, Slippery Rock, Indiana and California universities, was facing huge long-standing challenges. Declining enrollment, rising tuition prices and other issues threatened its financial sustainability.
The system needed to change, and it had to be strategic and fast. Access to higher education for future generations of students depended on it. 

As chairman of the House Education Committee, I introduced House Bill 2171, which became law (Act 50 of 2020), that enabled the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to update and redesign itself. The law gave PASSHE the tools it needs to better manage the system and deliver results for students. 

At each step, the House Appropriations and Education committees, as a group, closely monitored the system’s progress to ensure the needs of students and their families were prioritized with every decision. Change can be hard, but the system is keeping its promises, working with students, faculty, and communities on solutions.

Already the universities have saved $173 million and froze tuition for an unprecedented three consecutive years, foregoing nearly $60 million in revenue to help students with the cost. That’s a huge change after years of tuition increases. 

Students are also benefiting as universities work with regional employers to better align academic programs to the needs of the workforce. That means students get more than a degree. They’re gaining the education, skills and credentials for jobs that are in high demand in our region. The universities also help adults to get credentials to advance their careers or change careers, which is critically important in western Pennsylvania.

We depend on the state-owned universities so local students can stay and work here. They are our health care workers, engineers, teachers, small business owners and many others. Going to a state system university lets students get an affordable college degree closer to home and build rewarding lives near their families while enhancing our local workforce.

Those opportunities will only increase through Act 96 of 2021, which will help improve access to high-speed internet by flowing significant broadband dollars through a competitive bid process to expedite deployment across our Commonwealth. Pennsylvania is poised to receive at least $100 million and likely will receive substantially more. Soon, someone can work for a company in Texas or Colorado from their home office in Erie, Venango or other counties in western Pennsylvania. Imagine the opportunity to avoid the commuter gridlock and higher costs of living in areas like Dallas or Denver by living here. That’s a tremendous opportunity for our region and the local state system universities will be key to educating and re-educating our residents for those jobs. 

State-owned universities are also critical to local economies. As employers, Clarion University is the largest in Clarion County, IUP is the second largest in Indiana County, Slippery Rock is the fifth largest in Butler County, California is the 10th largest in Washington County, and Edinboro is the 26th largest in Erie County. Those local economies depend on the universities and their employers to support local businesses and create jobs.

Our communities depend on these universities, and the system has redesigned itself to better meet the needs of students and improve its finances. I strongly support PASSHE’s funding request to the state, which includes $550 million to hold the line on tuition for a fourth consecutive year; $201 million for student financial aid, especially important for rural students; and at least $75 million of the remaining $150 million in federal funds reserved for the State System to continue its robust transformation.

Not everyone wants to go to college, but for the western Pennsylvania students and adults who want a degree or credential, we must keep their dream within reach and protect our economy. 

Now is the time for the Legislature to continue investing in our State System universities and their students. Their futures and our local economies depend on it.

The 4th Legislative Districtin Erie County include Amity, Concord, Greene, Greenfield, Harborcreek, LeBoeuf, North East, Union, Venango, Waterford and Wayne townships; Elgin, Mill Village, North East, Union City, Waterford and Wattsburg boroughs; and the city of Corry.

Representative Curt Sonney
4th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Tracy Polovick