Gov. Corbett's plan to cut higher education funding by half would inevitably mean tuition hikes, staff reductions, and even fewer students, administrators at Pennsylvania's colleges and universities said Tuesday.

"A funding gap this large is going to fundamentally change the way we operate," said Pennsylvania State University president Graham Spanier, "from the number of students we can educate, to the tuition we must charge, to the programs we offer and the services we can provide, to the number of employees and the research we undertake."

Penn State officials called the proposed cut the largest in the institution's 157-year history.

If approved by the General Assembly, Corbett's budget would trim $625 million, or about 50 percent, from funds meant for the 14 state-owned universities and the four "state-related" universities, including Temple and Lincoln.

Corbett said in his budget address that the current fiscal crisis "is a time to rethink state spending on higher education."

"Despite state subsidies over the past decades, tuition has continued to increase," Corbett said. "If the intent was to keep tuition rates down, it failed. We need to find a new model."

Administrators said that while they had anticipated the possibility of funding cuts, they were shocked by the magnitude. They also vowed to try to restore as much funding as possible.

Temple president Ann Weaver Hart said the proposed cut "dramatically alters the relationship between the commonwealth" and state-related universities."

"For the last five decades, commonwealth support has helped the four state-related schools provide access to a high-quality education at an affordable value, while building research enterprises that have driven the Pennsylvania economy," she said. "We will ask legislators to continue their investment in higher education to benefit Pennsylvania's young people and strengthen the commonwealth's economic well-being."

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said the proposed cuts would deprive students of essential programs and services while guaranteeing tuition hikes. Hurt most, the association said, would be those who can least afford college now.

"The real victims of the governor's proposed cuts will be the working-class families of Pennsylvania, who counted on their sons' and daughters' receiving a quality college education so that they could fulfill their dreams," said Steve Hicks, president of the association.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also expressed concerns Tuesday about the impact of such cuts.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) said the budget had been "constructed on the backs of working families and children." Rep. James Roebuck Jr. (D., Phila.) agreed.

"For many students who go to college and in some cases really stretch to do that," Roebuck said. " . . . you're now saying to them, you just can't go."

Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre), who is chairman of the appropriations committee and whose district includes Penn State, said he was willing to give the governor time to make his case.

"At some point, we'll allow the governor to articulate his vision for higher education, so he can tell us why they think this is appropriate," Corman said. "Is it a math issue, or just a policy issue? I try to refrain from saying I'm for this or against this this early in the budget process."