Investing in public universities is good for the PA


Pennsylvania businesses of all sizes and in many industries are struggling to find enough skilled workers for a sizable number of open jobs. There were nearly 382,000 jobs open in Pennsylvania in March, 70,000 more than those unemployed. Our republic lacks enough people with the necessary education and training to fill all positions.

The problem isn’t new or unique to Pennsylvania, but the pandemic has shed light on the shortage of skilled workers. This lack of talent is further proof that Pennsylvania needs to reinvest in students at our public universities.

The numbers tell the story. Nearly 60% of jobs in Pennsylvania require some level of higher education, but only about 51% of the workforce have it. The talent shortage extends to the biggest industries, from agribusiness, information technology, business and finance to healthcare. These industries drive our economy and drive local communities.

The talent gap has widened as funding for public universities has fallen behind. Today, Pennsylvania ranks 46e in the country for investments in public four-year universities like the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Annual state funding has decreased by 35% ($252 million) since 2000/01 after adjusting for inflation.

If we are to bolster our workforce with the talented, skilled people that employers need, then the legislature must reinvest in our state system universities.

I am proud to be part of the Foundation which provides financial support to 90,000 students of the State System of Higher Education in Pennsylvania. Universities have campuses across the state that focus solely on providing affordable education to low- and middle-income students.

Our state system universities provide students from our big cities to rural communities with a career path to learn and work their way into the middle class and pursue the American Dream.

These exciting opportunities are life-changing for students, with more than 70% of State System graduates remaining in Pennsylvania. They get good jobs, put down roots in their communities, and build families and meaningful lives here. This is one of the reasons the state system of universities provides $4 billion in economic impact to the state.

As a former employer, I am also proud that our universities are diversifying. Almost a quarter of students are minorities and a record 20% are adults. Today, three out of four minority graduates from low-income families move up to higher-income status and earn almost as much as students from high-income families. This is a tremendous achievement that also creates a more diverse pool of potential employees for Pennsylvania businesses.

As a retired healthcare executive, I have experienced firsthand the struggle to find enough skilled workers for the number of healthcare job openings. Over the years, our organization has partnered with state system universities on a variety of programs in high-demand disciplines (i.e. nursing, radiology, business). State system universities offer students/employees a cost-effective option to use a company’s tuition reimbursement program to continue to grow professionally.

The opportunity to expand these partnerships with investments from the legislature, as well as the PA business community, is a win-win situation for Pennsylvania. Providing cost-effective higher education and training programs to Pennsylvania high school students and adult learners is an investment in the future that will expand our workforce and has the potential to attract and retain key employers in the state.

Our universities in the state system are also redesigning themselves to provide more value to students by ensuring they are ready for high-demand jobs. Last year, universities awarded nearly 24,000 degrees and certificates in high-growth fields such as STEM, health, business and education, all essential to addressing the labor shortage .

Our public universities are an engine of workforce development and now the state must invest in students and in our economy.

In April, the state system’s Board of Governors voted to freeze tuition fees for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, despite inflation fears. The vote was a leap of faith in the General Assembly that lawmakers would fulfill their part of the system’s ambitious overhaul by reinvesting in universities.

To offset the need for a tuition increase, the system is asking the state for $550 million, a $75 million increase, as well as $201 million in direct student aid to reduce the cost to students and families, and at least $75 million. of the remaining $150 million in federal funding, the General Assembly and the Governor have pledged to continue the vigorous transformation of public universities.

I urge the legislator to provide the funding. The magnitude of the funding request demonstrates the urgency of this moment for universities in the state system and our workforce. Public higher education is the most cost-effective way to address our labor shortages by preparing thousands of low- and middle-income students for high-demand careers and creating a pool of well-educated and qualified. The future of our businesses and the Pennsylvania economy depends on it.

Lynn Miller is Chair of the Board of the PASSHE Foundation and retired Executive Director of Geisinger Health System.

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