HARRISBURG, Pa. – Two dozen students, staff and alumni from Pitt-Bradford joined Dr. Livingston Alexander, president, and 500 supporters of the University of Pittsburgh in Harrisburg Tuesday to lobby against cuts proposed to Pitt’s state appropriation by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Leaving before daybreak, the group traveled 400 miles to meet face-to-face with legislators throughout the day.
Members of the group said that legislators were largely sympathetic to their request to keep the appropriation for Pitt and other state-related schools at the same level as this fiscal year, which was already a 20 percent reduction from the previous year’s levels.
In February, Corbett unveiled his proposed 2012-13 budget, which included a $42 million cut to Pitt’s state appropriation. The cut would come on top of a $67 million cut for the current fiscal year from 2011-12 funding levels.
A large group of Pitt and Pitt-Bradford advocates met with Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, chairman of the Republican appropriations committee whose district includes the University Park campus of Penn State. Penn State faces the same proposed 30 percent reduction in state funding.
“We’re very encouraged by your comments about higher education,” Alexander told Corman.
Paula Haag, a freshman nontraditional student from Bradford, took the opportunity to tell Corman her unique story as a mother paying tuition not only for herself, but also for her three children, all of whom are also Pitt-Bradford students.
Haag, who began college this semester after she became unemployed, said that she is afraid cuts will lead to tuition increases that are unsustainable for her family.
“If they cut this funding, I won’t be able to go to college, but I’ll still be responsible for my loans,” she said.
Corman was sympathetic, saying, “I don’t agree with this proposal, but I don’t want to say that the governor doesn’t care about higher education.”
Later in the day Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg spoke to a full gathering of Pitt advocates in the Capitol rotunda.
Nordenberg emphasized the roll that Pitt has played in helping Western Pennsylvania develop new biotech industries that have helped the region weather the current recession.
“We have always stood ready to do our part, but we really need to object when the cuts that are proposed are deep and … disproportionate,” Nordenberg said.
If the budget were to be passed as proposed, “This would take us to the lowest level of support …. since 1986,” he said, without adjusting for inflation. If adjusted for inflation, he added, the proposed budget would provide the least amount of support to Pitt since it became a state-related institution in 1967.
Throughout the day, students visited their representatives or their staff members to tell them how the proposed cut in Pitt’s state appropriation could affect them.
“I don’t have any parents helping me with school,” Brittany Scruggs, a junior public relations major from Collingdale told a representative of Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery, adding that she works two jobs to pay for school.
Alexander, along with staff members and alumni, called on several legislators and led a delegation that met with Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, senator pro tempore whose legislative district includes Pitt-Bradford.
“We have support with the legislators, especially our local legislators,” Alexander said afterward. “It looks promising.”
Rep. Marty Causer, R-McKean, who represents Pitt-Bradford in the House of Representatives, said it is a matter of finding where else money for the state-related universities can come from.
“There are a lot of people who want to restore our funding, but the question is where we get it from,” Causer said.
Between sessions, students had a chance to admire the handsome 106-year-old capitol building, taking photos of each other on the grand marble staircase and attending a House session.