PHILADELPHIA – A commission charged with improving higher education in Pennsylvania has recommended that colleges and universities be able to earn additional state funding by meeting certain performance targets.
The proposal by the governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education is among nearly 20 ideas designed to address the state’s need for lifelong learners, better accessibility and affordability, a diverse student population and enhanced global competitiveness.
The panel’s suggestions were released Wednesday after nine months of study by members including public and private college presidents, business leaders and state education officials.
“The conclusion that everybody came to was that investment in higher education is central to the economic future and success of the commonwealth,” said John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the 14 state-owned universities and a commission member. “And that investment needs to be broad, and respect and reflect the different kinds of higher education there are.”
The report comes as students nationwide struggle with loan debt, the job market increasingly demands more than a high school diploma, and colleges work to control costs in the face of decreasing subsidies. Higher education funding in Pennsylvania has declined more than 20 percent from its peak four years ago.
To help compensate, the commission proposed a performance fund of $256 million that would be distributed among schools that meet goals such as controlling tuition and increasing access to under-represented groups.
The state university system has been using a similar approach for more than 10 years, Cavanaugh noted, resulting in better completion rates for black and Latino students.
n Develop “Passport for Learning,” an online portal that would facilitate career planning and transitions by linking students with businesses, education providers, training and credentials.
n Establish a consortium of research universities that would develop an “Innovation Agenda” to guide the governor in creating tax incentives and other programs to advance research enterprises.
n Reach out to populations including low-income, rural, black and Latino adults, veterans and residents over 45.
Gov. Tom Corbett created the 31-member commission in February, charging it with conducting “a thorough, public and candid conversation about how best to deal with the spiraling costs and our own obligations.”
Corbett’s past two budget proposals sought aid cutbacks of 20 percent to 54 percent for the state campuses and Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln universities.
Ultimately, the schools suffered 19 percent reductions last year and were level-funded this year after university presidents testified before state lawmakers about the hardships the cuts would cause.
The 104-page report released Wednesday stems from 16 meetings held statewide with dozens of business leaders, educators, experts and students. Commission chairman Rob Wonderling called the report “a robust roadmap for the next decade,” but its conclusions are strictly advisory.
Richard Englert, a panel member and acting president of Temple University, said in a statement that the report “affirms the importance of public higher education.”
An Education Department spokesman said Corbett will review the report.