I read with some concern about budget reductions at Slippery Rock University in the May 22 Post Gazette ("Third College Cutting its Staff"). These cuts are being made in response to reductions in state funding for higher education throughout the state.
Obviously this is not good news for Slippery Rock, but it is also not good news for the surrounding community, which surely relies on the university as a major source of jobs, expenditures and taxes for the local economy. After three decades of economic decline in Western Pennsylvania, fewer and fewer resources are available to help stabilize the economy. In communities like Slippery Rock, a university is one of those resources.
The situation in Slippery Rock causes me to wonder what impact continued reductions in state funding will have on the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt is a regional and statewide resource. Pitt and affiliated organizations provide more than 23,000 jobs and attract more than $654 million in federal research funding. The university pumps more than $1.74 billion dollars into the regional economy, paying more than $145 million to local governments, including sales, wage and real estate taxes.
Serving as an engine of economic growth is hardly Pitt's foremost role. Pitt is the pre-eminent public research university in the region and a major contributor to undergraduate, graduate and professional education throughout the state. It is a significant institutional resource to state and local governments and an intellectual resource to many public and private organizations.
Pitt's ability to perform these functions is being jeopardized by continued underfunding on the part of the state. I am not suggesting that Pitt is going to close its doors or relocate to another area if the state continues to fail at providing adequate support. But state officials need to stop looking at how much they can cut and start looking at how much they can afford to lose.