Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

In 2010, Anthony Fioriglio, a then-Practicum Writer for The Quad, wrote an article titled “PASSHE speaker informs students of a campaign to prevent tuition increase.” The article details a presentation made at the Student Government Association Meeting on November 30, at which Karen Ball, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Vice Chancellor of External Relations, advocated for student involvement in demonstrating the importance of government funding for higher education, particularly through a trip to advocate at the Capitol Building. The trip was planned to take place sometime around spring break and would include representatives from the fourteen PASSHE schools; it would then be succeeded by independent lobbying by students, with phone calls and emails to representatives to punctuate the message. The need for such lobbying and demonstrations came from a near-constant struggle over distribution of government funds which, at the time, higher education was only privy to 4% of. This lack of funding, which had already decreased by 5% percent from 1990, had placed it solidly behind what Pennsylvania was spending on correctional facilities. Universities within the PASSHE system had received about one-third of their funding from the government, with the remaining balance covered by student tuition. However, what had become the standardized amount allotted for higher education spending at the state level was cushioned by a $38 million dollar stimulus, which had officially run out in 2010, thereby straining government support for PASSHE schools even further and driving the need to increase student tuition. 

What had started as a possible 5% increase in tuition has now ballooned to 165% in 2024, with West Chester University’s (WCU) in-state, 12-credits-per-semester tuition totaling to $7,716. Stagnation has plagued the state government in regards to how much they distribute to PASSHE institutions. The $2 billion dollars the sector is allotted is almost the same when looking at allotments 16 years ago, showing that funding, much like wages, has not kept a steady or even snail’s pace as inflation increases and tuition prices skyrocket. 

Recently, Governor Shapiro put forth an initiative to bring together the PASSHE universities and Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges “under a new governance system,” while allowing each  institution to remain as independent bodies. The proposal also includes dropping tuition for PASSHE system schools to $1,000 a semester, increasing the accessibility of higher education, and implementing a new performance-based funding formula, which would factor in items such as graduation rates and the number of first-generation college students who receive credentials. The formula also includes incentives for recruitment and support of students looking to enter high-demand fields, such as nursing, and teaching, and growing fields like manufacturing and biotechnology. While the plan itself would not apply to the four other state universities in Pennsylvania — Lincoln University, Temple University, Penn State University, and the University of Pittsburgh — the funding formula would lower tuition costs for lower and middle-class households. 

The reasoning beyond the extreme undertaking that would be necessitated for not including the four state-related institutions under the new governance, and thereby under state control, is that those institutions have a different purpose within the higher education system. The purpose of PASSHE system schools, per the purview of Shapiro’s administration via his spokesperson Emily Roderick, are to provide “workforce-aligned credentials.”

A college education, if desired, should be accessible to all students regardless of economic status. Lowering tuition costs not only makes higher education more accessible, thereby prompting greater personal and state-wide economic growth, but also allows lower-income students to get more out of their education in the form of extracurriculars and other non-necessitated, but extremely valuable, college experiences. Furthermore, while I would never argue that fields such as nursing or teaching are unneeded or undeserving of monetary support, the fact remains that Arts and Humanities students attending the most accessible higher education option should be similarly supported. I do not mean to argue the importance of one career over another, as that does nothing for me or the broader point I am trying to illustrate. Often, students from lower-income backgrounds do not view Humanities as a viable option for them, typically discounting it entirely when considering the college admission process. This is coming from someone who completely discounted the Humanities upon applying and only recently — a mere semester ago — made the pivot. Accessible higher education options that support the Arts and Humanities, along with the STEM and professional majors, allow students with less economic security to channel their interests and talents into fields they feel drawn to. Such fields have often been lambasted as “useless” and gatekept for the upper-echelon, when, in reality, they can provide a plethora of options. People are most definitely interested in STEM and professional majors, and lower-income students most definitely face classist barriers to pursuing those majors. For  lower-income students, college is seen as too expensive of an opportunity to “waste” on a major that “makes no money,” (anything Arts and Humanities), so they may feel like the only right option is among the majors socially labeled as secure — particularly when thinking about desired social mobility. Specific college majors, often in the Arts and Humanities sector, have been used to obscure the much larger issues in the U.S.’ job market pertaining to employee rights and retention. The Arts and Humanities should be included in higher education planning because lower-income students must feel supported in pursuing those options if they so choose. Higher education should be free to students of all backgrounds and majors, but a more accessible cost and level of entry puts us on that path. 

 


Alexis Stakem is a second-year English major with a minor in Social Work Concepts. AS996397@wcupa.edu .

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