PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Chanting “No more cuts, No more cuts,” a rally of perhaps a 100 University of Pittsburgh students and supporters called on state legislators to reject Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to cut funding for Pitt by 50 percent, a loss of $80 million in state support.
“If these budget cuts go through, this will only push in-state students like me away from a university like this,” the president of Pitt’s student government Molly Steiber told the crowd.
Steiber said a lot is at stake for students because without state support, Pitt will become just another high-priced private university.
“Pitt will just move to being another private institution, which I think being state-related makes Pitt very special in Pennsylvania,” said Steiber.
Students like Phil Larue said the governor’s cuts would raise tuition for Pitt students.
“He wants to shut the door of opportunity on thousands of young Pennsylvanians who just want to better themselves,” Larue told the rally.
It was a common refrain among many Pitt students.
“My father is unemployed,” student Ashley Hazeltime told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. “If these budget cuts happen, my education is in jeopardy, my future is in jeopardy. So that’s why I’m here because I care — not just about my university and about my personal education, but all the students of Pennsylvania that are in the same situation that I am.”
The unhappiness is such that some warned Harrisburg politicians of political repercussions.
“If we can’t afford to better ourselves, if we can’t afford to do what we always thought we could do to live up to our dreams, absolutely, we’re going to register to vote,” promised Larue.
“We’re going to come out to vote, and we’re going to do it again and again, and we’re going to vote for the people who support education and support our future.”
Larue, like many students, thinks Corbett has unfairly targeted students to bear the brunt of his budget cuts.
“I think that struggling college students who are taking ever increasing amounts of debt just to go to school and better themselves are the main people who are suffering from these cuts,” he says. “I don’t think the gas drillers and the big companies in this state are paying their fair share.”
Student leaders say Corbett’s $80 million cut for Pitt especially hurts in-state students who, because of the state subsidy, pay about $10,000 less in tuition than out-of-state students.
“From the subsidy we get from the appropriations is about $6,000 per in-state [student], so you can imagine if that’s cut in half what the increase will be for in-state students,” noted Steiber.
Many students like sophomore David Bowers say they cannot afford a $3,000 hike in Pitt’s tuition.
“My family is not a well-off family, so I’m taking out thousands and thousands of dollars of loans, and next year I’m going to have to up those loans just to get through school.”
Keisha Coleman of Stanton Heights cleans classrooms as a worker and then attends classes to get her college degree.
“Cutting higher education is just not the way to do it,” says Coleman. “It impacts everybody, not just the students. It impacts the workers. It impacts the whole community in Pittsburgh.”
Organizers said this rally cut across political lines – with a unified message that students will deliver to lawmakers in person on April 5.
“We’ll be going to Harrisburg and speaking with hopefully all of the legislators in the House and the Senate to make our concerns known,” said Pitt student Richard White, “and to tell them why we love Pitt and why we need our funds.”
Historically, students have not had much political clout in Pennsylvania. But their parents are another story – which is why whether these cuts in higher education funding are not a done deal.