"A Decade of Distinction and Impact at Pitt"

Issue Date: 
March 1, 2010

This is a statement prepared by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg for his Feb. 23 appearance together with the leadership of the Commonwealth’s other state-related universities—Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln—at the annual funding hearing of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg.

Cathedral1In referring to the decade just closed, one national columnist, reflecting what seems to be a common attitude, proposed that we “bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero–the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing.” In terms of progress in advancing its basic missions, such a description certainly would not apply to the University of Pittsburgh. Instead, the past 10 years were a decade of distinction and impact at Pitt. Consider just these few telling examples:

• Applications for admission to our programs have continued to soar, and so have the performances of enrolled students. Last year, for example, Pitt claimed its third Rhodes Scholar in the past five years—a record that more typically might be associated with an elite Ivy League institution than with a public university. During the past decade, Pitt awarded nearly 76,000 degrees, each representing the determined use of the power of higher education to build the foundation for a life of achievement and impact, consistent with the American dream;

• In the last 10 years, University of Pittsburgh graduates received, among many other honors, the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the National Medal of Science, the Fritz Medal in Engineering, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the Shaw and Albany prizes in medicine. Tens of thousands of Pitt alumni whose accomplishments may never trigger such public recognition do lead productive lives that include regular contributions to their home communities. It is important to note that 83 percent of Pitt’s undergraduates and 76 percent of our entire student body come from Pennsylvania and that more than 61 percent of our graduates live and work here, a number that would be even higher if there were more robust job growth;

• Over the course of the past decade, Pitt’s research expenditures totaled an astonishing $5.33 billion. Those largely imported, but locally spent, funds are a sign of institutional stature, support pioneering research, and provide the financial foundation for tens of thousands of local jobs. Pitt now ranks among the top five universities nationally in funding its faculty attracts from the National Institutes of Health, joining Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Penn, and the University of California at San Francisco. Pitt also ranks among the nation’s top 10 universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support;

• Both before and after Pittsburgh’s G-20 Summit last September, our home region attracted national and international attention for its development of an economy increasingly tied to university-based research. And over the course of the past decade, Pitt’s research strengths have been an essential factor in the launch and growth of a wide range of technology-driven economic development initiatives, including the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, the Technology Collaborative (as well as its predecessors, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and the Robotics Foundry), and the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative;

• Pitt also sits at the heart of what has been called the education and health services employment “supersector” by the U.S. Department of Labor. This is now the largest employment sector in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and the only sector that is delivering consistent and substantial job growth. Between March of 2008 and March of 2009, for example, the Pittsburgh area lost 7,400 manufacturing jobs; lost 5,300 leisure and hospitality jobs; lost 5,200 trade, transportation and utility jobs; lost 2,600 professional and business service jobs; lost 1,700 construction jobs; lost 1,100 information and financial services jobs; and lost 1,000 government jobs. In sharp contrast, the only industry to gain at least 1,000 jobs in that same period was education and health services, which added 5,400 jobs; and

• Of course, our University’s regional contributions go far beyond job generation. Our levels of community commitment and impact are evidenced by the fact that Pitt was the country’s top-ranked public university in the 2009 edition of Saviors of Our Cities: A Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships. That assessment reflects our long-standing efforts to strengthen the economy and enhance the overall quality of life in our home communities.

In terms of state funding, though, the past 10 years might more fairly be labeled a “lost decade” for Pitt and Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities. To provide some sense of the longer-term patterns, trends from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2009 are revealing. During that period, the state’s general fund budget grew by nearly 40 percent; inflation increased by slightly more than 24 percent; state support for community colleges rose by some 33 percent; state support for the State System of Higher Education increased by nearly 6 percent; and state support for Pitt increased by less than 0.3 percent. Also telling is the fact that actual Commonwealth dollars invested in Pitt fell by more than 5 percent during this period, because some past state support was replaced by federal Medicaid matching funds.

The months of 2009, of course, presented their own special difficulties. By this time last year, for example, we were well into the process of doing everything that was required to absorb two midyear appropriation cuts. That responsibility was shouldered without complaint, given the fact that we all were moving through such economically challenging times. However, making the required adjustments—which included an institutionwide salary freeze—was not easy, either for the University or for its people.

If those midyear appropriation cuts were somewhat predictable once the recession had emerged, two other major challenges from the past year were not. In midsummer, we faced the startling attempt to label the state-related universities as “nonpublic.” That designation would have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in additional losses, because all four schools would have been denied federal stimulus funding and would have been deprived of certain state-funding protections built into federal law. Fortunately, not only for the four involved institutions but for the cause of public higher education, that position was not accepted by the U.S. Department of Education.

However, that was not the end of our special challenges. Because of ongoing disputes over gaming legislation, we were nearly halfway through the current fiscal year, into the second half of December, before our appropriation finally was approved, and our first appropriation payment was not received until earlier this month. Particularly because we had acted, in good faith, to hold tuition increases to very low levels, this delay created a high level of stressful uncertainty among our students and their families. It also resulted in financial strains and an inability to plan effectively within the institution.

In the budget that has been proposed for fiscal year 2011, funding for the Department of Education would increase by slightly more than 4 percent, with state support for basic education increasing by nearly 5 percent. In contrast, funding for the University of Pittsburgh and the other state-related universities would stay at the same level as that for the current fiscal year. This is the continuation of a clear and extended pattern. Compared to fiscal year 2003, for example, state support for basic education will have increased by 43 percent, while actual state dollars allocated to the University of Pittsburgh will have remained the same.

Obviously, flat funding is better than the cuts that were endured last year and in some other past periods. However, flat funding will not provide any support for the cost increases that are a virtual certainty. Even more troubling is the fact that federal stimulus funding, upon which two successive state budgets will have been built, is scheduled to disappear in fiscal year 2012. This “funding cliff” threatens to produce larger state budget deficits and likely will result in even greater pressures on funding for public higher education. Some protections have been built into the basic education funding line. Consideration should be given to similarly responsible planning for higher education.

During the past decade, the University of Pittsburgh has enhanced its position as the institution of choice for many of this state’s most talented and hard-working students, has developed academic programs of acknowledged strength, has been recognized as an international center of pioneering research, and has emerged as increasingly critical to job creation and economic growth in its home region. As we emerge from the current economic crisis, the interests of the people of Pennsylvania clearly would be served if more adequate levels of funding were restored to this important Commonwealth asset.