Gov. Tom Corbett promised "a thorough, public, and candid conversation" about the rising cost of higher education in announcing a budget that slashes state support to colleges for the second straight year.
The proposed cuts of up to 30 percent, on top of a nearly 20 percent reduction last year, are leading observers in Harrisburg and elsewhere to question whether a major shift is at hand: an effort to defund what some Republican legislators see as wasteful public universities in an era of shrinking resources.
"Do we need all these campuses?" State Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) asked Tuesday, promising that the Senate would examine the proliferation of satellite campuses.
Within hours of Corbett's budget address, college leaders, union heads, and Democratic politicians were marshaling to fight the cuts.
"There is a trend underlying all this - that is to defund public education and to defund particularly public higher education," said Art Hochner, president of the Temple University faculty union. "As if higher education is some kind of private good that individuals get and therefore they ought to pay for it, and pay good bucks for it, as opposed to a public good where the state benefits from investing in having an educated workforce and people who pay taxes."