Having proposed a 30 percent cut in state funds for Pitt, Penn State and Temple and Lincoln in his budget, Gov, Tom Corbett this week told his higher education commission to figure out a way to help schools be content with their measly helping of gruel — a la Oliver Twist. These are not the exact words Mr. Corbett used, but I characterize it like this for the benefit of any English majors who may have been drawn to the blog,
With the university challenged to "think differently," the new chair of Penn State's board of trustees disclosed that it is cautiously considering the option of going private. It has looked at the example of Cornell, a private school with public ties that has many distinctions, not the least of which is that it is the school my son-in-law Critter attended.
Now, a quick look at the US News and World Report Web site reveals that Cornell has an enrollment of about 14,000 and the tuition is $41,541.
Penn State has en enrollment of 90,000 on 24 campuses, including 44,000 at State College. The tuition is listed at $15,984, but slightly more than half the students get some financial aid.
In short, I don't think Cornell is a great comparable, as they say in real estate assessment circles. My guess is that this interest in Cornell was revealed only to put subtle pressure on the governor. It was just a way of saying, "Please, sir, may we have some more gruel." Good luck with that one.
But I think the remedy is not to go private; that shouldn't even be considered. It really is up to the governor to recognize the importance of higher education on future prosperity. To boast that he didn't raise taxes today, Mr. Corbett is prepared to beggar Penn State (and Pitt and the rest) tomorrow.
If Penn State were to go private, it would betray the public trust. Pennsylvanians have supported the school with public money for many years with the understanding that it would remain affordable for their children. And if it ever becomes the Cornell of Pennsylvania, look for Cornell-style tuition.