Op-ed: Governor Wolf Owes PASSHE Schools an Apology by Senator Richard Alloway

The Wolf Administration recently took the unprecedented step of demanding a promise of a tuition freeze at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities in exchange for new funding that has not yet been approved (or even considered) by the legislature. It is extremely disappointing that the Administration has chosen a course of action that promotes confusion for students and their families, particularly in light of the governor’s new proposed taxes on meal plans, books, and mandatory fees that, when taxed, will increase a student’s expenses by $428. This exceeds the cost of a proposed tuition increase of 3% enacted by the State System, which would result in an increase of $204. The Wolf Plan doesn’t save students and families any money, but will in fact cost them $224 more to attend their schools this fall. Demanding a tuition freeze while fighting for these new taxes is very much like patting families on the back with one hand while robbing them with the other.

Although the act of using the universities purely as political pawns was deplorable in its own right, the way in which the Administration browbeat PASSHE Board members into approving this measure was even more disturbing. Governor Wolf’s Secretary of Policy John Hanger brazenly told Board members that the Administration would not fight for a funding increase for the State System unless the tuition freeze was approved. If Governor Wolf’s real goal is to protect students against tuition increases, what is the rationale for threatening to withhold more than $45 million in financial support? Would that not force an even greater tuition increase? How does that help students?

It is also puzzling to me that PASSHE schools are being forced into accepting such a resolution while no such requirement exists for state-related schools. If State System schools are being asked to freeze tuition in exchange for increased funding from the state, why are our state-related schools not facing the same pressure to accept a similar deal, but merely asked to “hold the line?”

The answer to all of these questions is simple – the resolution never had anything to do with protecting students or making higher education more affordable for Pennsylvania families. This action was clearly nothing more than a misguided attempt to gain political leverage over lawmakers in budget negotiations. The Wolf Administration grossly overstepped its bounds in resorting to threats and intimidation in order to score a small political victory, and they owe all of our PASSHE schools an immediate apology for treating them as a resource to be exploited, rather than nurtured.

It is unfortunate that after just a few short months in office, Wolf’s team is already resorting to such underhanded, nakedly political tactics that do nothing to serve the public interest. Anything less than a sincere public apology for his Administration’s misdeeds would only confirm the growing opinion among lawmakers that Governor Wolf’s tone-deaf arrogance will ultimately prevent him from matching even the meager accomplishments of his predecessor.

CONTACT: Jeremy Shoemaker (717) 787