Editorial: State obligated to partner with private sector to replace budget cuts

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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During Pitt’s American Experience Distinguished Lecture on Monday, Chancellor Nordenberg continued to warn the public of the adverse effects state funding cuts on higher education have on Pitt and the nation.

“Unfortunately, we are heading in the direction of lasting losses to community, commonwealth and country,” Nordenberg said.

The problem is that many universities across the state, Pitt included, have seen large state budget cuts with little done on the state government’s part to make up for the funds for research, innovation and technology. The state government, which allocates funds to institutions in the Commonwealth system and state-owned institutions, has an obligation to assist in finding solutions to alleviate the burdens to which these schools have been subjected, at the very least. 

Two potential solutions lie in making up the difference through enhancing public-private partnerships or pursuing budget alterations from different sectors to provide sustained funds for education. State budget cuts are affecting institutions’ ability to not only uphold their academic achievement standards but also create new areas of growth, inhibiting their ability to compete nationally and internationally.

While on a state level, one solution could be to reallocate funds from one sector to another, Pennsylvania’s options are controversial to the point that little change will occur at a quick enough rate. For instance, privatization of liquor sales or generating increased revenue from taxes on fracking are far too politically challenging pathways that will not produce immediate, effective results toward increasing funding for higher education. Hence, it seems best to tap into the private sector.

In terms of securing funding, the state has to be able to use the track record of institutions such as Pitt to secure partnerships with the private sector. Pitt and Penn State are two Pennsylvania institutions that have strong research ties, which can serve as leverage for the state to secure relationships with private funders. In turn, these relationships could spur increased funding. Granted, those partnerships will have to remain specific to research efforts, outlining the various contributions of private entities and what universities and the state will produce in return.

The point is that the state has to be able to do something in order to replace the cuts they’ve put in place. These institutions, namely Pitt and other Pennsylvania schools, contribute to both state and national innovation, and their capability to enhance those efforts is hindered by a lack of funds. Public-private partnerships can help to sustain such innovation, and the state has to be able to first, realize this and second, secure such partnerships.

The repercussions of not securing those relations — or finding ways to make up the difference in budget cuts, more generally — will not only inhibit local economic growth, but will also have implications on the nation’s ability to do so, as well.

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