Should public universities privatize given state budget constraints?
- The University of Pittsburgh has watched its state funding dwindle from covering 35% of operations in the 1970s to 7% in 2018, a trend not likely to change soon. This academic year’s $144.2 million state appropriation was delayed by four months, and a proposed 2018-19 Pennsylvania budget calls to hold funding flat for a third straight year. This has some university leaders wondering if it makes sense to split from the state and become a private institution, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher said administrators and trustees do not want to severe the five-decade relationship with Pennsylvania and forgoing the state appropriation — as well as state spending on capital improvements — would be a tough pill to swallow. Gallagher tells the Post-Gazette that the school’s reputation and academic quality must be maintained in any split.
- A parting of the ways would impact the students, nevertheless. Pitt charges in-state students at its main campus $18,130 for tuition and about $30,00 for out-of-students, according to the story. Pitt could shift to a nationwide recruiting strategy, and might consider closing smaller, financially troubled campuses. That concerns trustees chair Eva Tansky Blum, who attended Pitt. “We value our mission as a public university," she said. "We really hope we don’t have to go there.”
The collapse of state funding for higher education institutions has been a topic of discussion for at least the past decade. The State Higher Education Executive Officers organization reports that in 2008, government appropriations for full-time equivalent students fell to a 25-year low when adjusted for inflation, and has not since rebounded, evolllution.com reports. The decline was partially offset by tuition increases in following years, leading some higher ed leaders to argue college has already become increasingly privatized, with students and their families baring more college costs as states take on less.
In today's political climate, it might be tempting for public university administrators to consider a private college model, foregoing the government regulations and oversight as state funding continues to fall. But making the switch would not be easy. Ownership of facilities, for example, is complicated, as colleges often sit on publicly owned land and have buildings funded or maintained at least partially through tax dollars. Institutions also could expect to lose in-state students as they hike tuition rates with no guarantees of attracting more out-of-state applicants.
Besides privatization, administrators nationwide are looking at other ways to raise revenue. New fund-raising methods, stronger endowments, and commercializing faculty and student technology and innovations are among the options available institutions — although they come with varying degrees of success.