HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett pledged Friday not to seek a third straight year of cutbacks in state aid for higher education and said he has secured a commitment from state-supported universities to keep tuition growth as low as possible.
Corbett said he will ask the Legislature on Tuesday when he releases his budget plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1 to maintain the state's current commitment of nearly $1.6 billion to higher education.
"At the same time, the leaders of these universities have made a commitment to me ... that they will keep tuition as low as they possibly can," Corbett said at a Capitol news conference with leaders of Temple, Pitt, Penn State, Lincoln and the 14 state-owned universities.
It remains to be seen how low tuition increases must be to satisfy Corbett and lawmakers.
The comments from Corbett, a Republican who made a campaign pledge not to raise taxes, came amid projections of a very tough budget year for the state.
Corbett's commitment on higher education support follows two straight years of seeking deep cuts in aid to the institutions amid ailing tax collections and expiring federal aid for state budgets.
Tax collections improved after the governor's initial budget proposals, allowing some of the cuts to be eased. Still, the state's funding level for higher education has dropped from nearly $1.9 billion in 2010-11.
A significant chunk of taxpayer money for higher education also aids community colleges and student tuition grants through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
Corbett has taken the state-supported universities to task for rising tuition rates.
He noted Friday that his pressure on them to hold tuition increases to the rate of inflation last year resulted in the lowest tuition increases "in at least a decade."
An early pledge on the aid for the universities will allow the schools and the students and their families to better plan their budgets, Corbett said. Still, it was unclear what students or their parents can expect in terms of a 2013-14 tuition increase.
"I'm not going to draw the line right now because I don't know what all the factors are that are out there," Corbett said. "But OK, let's say 10 percent? Yeah, I'd have a problem with 10 percent."
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, whose district includes Penn State's main campus, said the agreement is for the schools to do the absolute best they can.
"I suspect it will be less than 5 percent," Corman said at the news conference. "To keep it down to 3 percent or less, they have a lot of work to do themselves."