STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State student leaders railed Monday against Gov. Ed Rendell’s plan to help cash-strapped college students pay their tuition bills, contending it will leave students at Pennsylvania’s largest public university empty-handed.
“Our governor ... has clearly forgotten that we exist,” said George Khoury, president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments, at a midday rally.
Several dozen students and staffers gathered on the steps of the administration building at Penn State’s main University Park campus.
Rendell last week proposed legalizing video poker machines and using the proceeds to help ease the tuition crunch for students entering any of the state’s 14 state-owned universities or 14 community colleges this fall.
Left out, though, are students attending Pennsylvania’s four “state-related” institutions — the University of Pittsburgh, as well as Lincoln, Temple and Penn State universities.
“We should be proposing a plan to help all students in Pennsylvania. ... We must all stand together,” said Khoury, whose council represents student organizations from 19 other Penn State campuses around the state.
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the tuition aid proposal was limited to state-owned schools and community colleges because the government has more control over their budgets. He said those institutions’ tuition increases have been held more in line with inflation than those at state-related institutions.
“We have a limited funding for an unlimited need, and had to make decisions as to the wisest use of that money,” Ardo said Monday.
Students whose family income is less than $100,000 would be eligible for as much as $7,600 in financial aid for tuition, books, fees and room and board.
The state funds and operates the 14 universities in the state system of higher education, as well as the 14 community colleges.
The four state-related schools receive some public funding, but are not owned by the state. For instance, about 9 percent of the Penn State system’s $4 billion budget comes from state funding.
Gavin Keirans, student government president at University Park, said Penn State’s land-grant mission is to educate middle- and working-class residents.
“There is more that (Rendell) can do, it’s just figuring out a way to do it,” Keirans said.
Penn State enrolled more than 86,000 students in the fall, not including those taking classes online. More than 43,200 attend the University Park campus.
University president Graham Spanier said last week in a statement that the tuition aid plan was laudable, “but it is imperative that it include Penn State students.”
“State funding to help students afford the cost of public higher education in the Commonwealth should be based on the needs of all students attending public universities,” Spanier said.
About 31,000 undergraduates who are Pennsylvania residents would be eligible for Rendell’s tuition aid plan if Penn State was included, school vice president Bill Mahon said Monday.
That represents 60 percent of the system’s undergraduate enrollment, and the largest block of students who need help out of any institution in the state, Mahon said.
Rendell last week also proposed cutting $21 million in Penn State’s state funding for next academic year.
Many in-state students choose Penn State because the university offers degrees in fields such as architectural engineering or agriculture that may not be available at the state-related schools, Mahon said.
The tuition aid plan could unfairly limit Pennsylvania students’ college choices, Khoury said.
“We shouldn’t be punished,” said University Park student government vice president Valarie Russell. “We shouldn’t be relegated to second-class students.”