With Penn State and Pitt, Pennsylvania Wins

On Saturday, more than 100,000 fans dressed in telling shades of blue, gold and white will fill Beaver Stadium to watch Pitt and Penn State football teams take the field.

This tradition, which has simmered for more than a century, is fueled by intense competition and equally intense emotions. It is a game where spectators take sides—and the winning team earns a year of prized bragging rights in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Yet, away from the football field, our universities intersect in a very different way: We play on the same team, working to advance like-minded missions.

As institutions of public higher education, we educate tomorrow’s leaders and create knowledge through cutting-edge research. We also are proud community partners and proven drivers of economic gain.

Consider the numbers:

  • Nearly 80,000 Pennsylvania students gain world-class educations at our universities each year.
  • More than 50,000 Pennsylvanians work for our institutions to earn a living and support their families.
  • Our public mission, and the public funds we receive, enable us to offer in-state tuition rates that save Pennsylvania families more than $700 million annually.
  • And our economic impact—in Pennsylvania alone—exceeds $12 billion.

These statistics are part of a vast body of evidence that confirms Penn State and Pitt as powerful engines of opportunity and economic development. Yet, despite serving in such critical roles, state support for our institutions is in jeopardy—the direct consequence of a protracted budget impasse in Harrisburg.

Just two months ago, the call to fund our institutions—and continue a longstanding tradition of investing in state-related universities—garnered overwhelming bipartisan support when the state spending plan was passed. Nonetheless, members of the state House of Representatives have yet to act on the stand-alone appropriation bills that fund Pitt, Penn State and our state-related sister institutions—Temple and Lincoln.

These bills provide funding levels on par with the state’s commitments in 1998—not adjusted for inflation. Yet, they are essential for enabling our universities to continue offering Pennsylvania students a top-quality public education at a deep discount. Without House approval of these funds, Pitt and Penn State face a combined deficit of at least $400 million—a budget gap so severe, it will not spare our students, families, employees or local communities.

When the House returns to Harrisburg on Sept. 11, our elected officials can take immediate action to pass the pending appropriation bills that will fund Pennsylvania’s state-related universities. In doing so, they will be making the right call for our commonwealth families. That’s because, in our view — regardless of what happens between the end zones this weekend—the off-field victor is clear: With Penn State and Pitt, Pennsylvania always wins.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published this op-ed on September 5, 2017.