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Budget impasse triggers accreditation questions for 4 universities

Pennsylvania's lengthy budget impasse has caused the commission that accredits colleges regionally to question Temple and three other area universities about their ability to stay in compliance without a collective $600 million in state funding they have yet to receive.

Pennsylvania's lengthy budget impasse has caused the commission that accredits colleges regionally to question Temple and three other area universities about their ability to stay in compliance without a collective $600 million in state funding they have yet to receive.

Temple, Pennsylvania State and Lincoln Universities, and the University of Pittsburgh must by April 10 provide a report on the effect the budget impasse has had on their operations, and detail their contingency plans. Heather F. Perfetti, vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, gave that directive in a letter last Thursday.

"The fact that Middle States has now asked us to report on how the state budget impasse is affecting the quality of our education is one more signal of how serious the situation has become," said Temple president Neil D. Theobald. "A loss of accreditation would have devastating impact on the ability of our students to get federal loans - no Pennsylvania students and their families should be put into that position."

On Thursday, the state House passed a budget that included funding for the universities, but Gov. Wolf has said he will veto it. The spending plan had been approved by the Senate.

"Gov. Wolf understands the importance of funding education at all levels, including the state-related universities, but the math has not changed," said Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan. "We simply do not have the money for these appropriations, and unfortunately, it has become common practice for Harrisburg to refuse to pay the bills it has racked up on the taxpayer's credit card."

Richard Pokrass, spokesman for the Philadelphia-based Middle States commission, said that while it was too early to say whether accreditation could eventually be affected, the financial situation is serious enough that the commission wanted to get an idea of how the schools were coping.

"Budgetary impacts on educational offerings, staffing, facilities, and more could all lead to issues regarding compliance with the commission's accreditation standards," he said. "The goal here is for the commission to avoid any surprises."

For nearly nine months, the four universities have not received a dime in state funding - unlike the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which have received the same state funding as last year, though not an expected increase.

Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln are out about $600 million. The schools have borrowed money, put off hiring, scaled back travel, and postponed projects as they have waited for Harrisburg to resolve the budget impasse. In recent weeks, the four presidents issued a letter urging state leaders to come to an agreement.

"The state's failure to strike a funding deal is being noticed, and this is yet another development that underscores the significance of the issue," said Lawrence H. Lokman, vice president for strategic communications at Penn State.

Eric Barron, president of Penn State, said last month that the university would have to shutter its agricultural extension offices this summer and lay off 1,100 employees if the matter is not resolved.

At Lincoln, the missing $14 million allotment represents 25 percent of the university's budget. The university has not been filling staff vacancies and will exhaust its cash reserves by the end of the spring semester if state funding does not come through, a university spokeswoman said last month.

ssnyder@phillynews.com 215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq www.inquirer.com/campusinq

Staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.