Penn State – the 2nd private school in the B1G?

Would it be possible to amend Penn State’s charter and become a private school?

I’ve been toying with this idea for years because for as long as I can remember, the president had to battle it out with the state legislature over budget issues. Based on 2011 numbers, state funding accounts for 6.6% of the total budget and 14% of the general education budget. The 2012 budget proposes a 30% cut. To be fair, this is not targeted specifically at Penn State, but state-related schools in general (Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln). The budget calls for 20% reduction for state schools.

As we have all known for years, and as recent events have dramatically brought to the forefront, the relationship between the administration and state politicians is extremely complicated and seemingly rarely focused on providing the best possible education. With all relationships, it’s a two way street and I do not trust either party. The politicians are going to manipulate the university for political gain, while the administration, specifically the BOT, will do the same for business reasons. Neither party is innocent. But wouldn’t it be better to at least remove one half of this mess?

I understand the concern that should Penn State go private, there are two obvious issues. First, the BOT will probably be able to do its business under the cover of darkness, as it will no longer have political pressure or be required to submit to “right to know” regulations. I don’t have a good solution for that.

Second, tuition will go up. If I did my math correctly, 14% of the general education fun divided over 80,000 students results in approximately $3,000 in subsidies per student. (Side note, as an out of state student who paid double the in-state tuition rate, this $3,000 subsidy does not seem add up. I’m pretty sure I paid at least $12,000 more. Someone will need to explain this to me). With a 30% increase, that’s only $900 more per student. Yes, $900 is a significant amount of money.

But let me ask you this: Is $900 worth the huge food fight we might see played out in the media? Is it worth commissioning a new panel to research higher education in the state and possibly reduce the number of branch campuses – which, by the way, reduces the cost of education by allowing students to live at home while pursuing a quality degree? Is it worth all the finger pointing and smear tactics we have seen over the past 3 months? Is it worth all the threats of investigation and interference that in the end could simply be a game of smoke and mirrors for the governor? Is it worth all the strings and regulations? Lots of questions, but not many answers.

We have to admit, 6.6% of the general budget and 14% of the general education budget does not amount to much and hardly qualifies us for being a “state-related institution.” With the proposed budget, that would bring state contributions down to 4.6% and 10.8%, respectively. To me it seems like they are giving us just enough to placate us while requiring a whole lot more on our end. Truly, how do we benefit? Why stay in a relationship when, from all appearances, it is very one sided?

I’m interested to hear your opinions as this topic hasn't been discussed much.

Note: I have no experience with university budgets or legal expertise in anything, and I’m sure there are many other details involved with changing a land-grant university to be a private institution.

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