Knowing the Pennsylvania government was waist-deep in deficit, Temple University leaders braced for a reduction of up to 6 percent in state aid this year.
The current proposed cut stands at 25 percent. And that's an improvement from the governor's original 50 percent reduction.
That's a loss of $44.6 million, enough to pay 18 months of water, gas, and electric bills at all nine of Temple's campuses and sites.
Temple President Ann Weaver Hart has reimposed freezes on nonunion wages, administration hiring, and travel, while delaying plans to fill five top university posts. More hardship is coming as the school tries to reconcile big plans and fewer dollars.
"You can't do it without pain, and hard, hard work, but it's a reality we're facing in the commonwealth," Hart said in an interview. "Our key area of focus is always to protect academic quality."
At risk, observers say, is something that doesn't show up on a budget: Temple's role as a school that offers ready opportunity to area high school students.
Temple has become pickier about whom it accepts, drawing mostly from the region while raising admission standards. It may become pickier yet, as reductions in state funding push colleges to raise tuition, and to accept more students who, by dint of their out-of-state or overseas addresses, pay much higher prices.
"I'm concerned the public purpose of the university is going to be shifting," said associate business professor Arthur Hochner, head of the Temple Association of University Professionals, which represents 1,350 full-time faculty and staff. "Some students simply will be priced out of higher education, or a Temple education."
During the last decade, Temple tuition and fees have climbed 38 percent, while state funding has gone down, as measured in 2010 dollars. In the fall, in-state students paid $12,424 for tuition and fees, out-of-staters paid $22,252.
Temple administrators say they're determined to keep the school accessible - even as state support diminishes. For instance, dual-admission agreements with eight regional community colleges let students who prove they can handle college-level academics step up and into Temple.
"We're not going to solve this problem on the backs of our students, not completely," said Anthony Wagner, Temple's chief financial officer and treasurer.
Still, he said, tuition will go up in the fall, the percentage yet to be determined. Tuition increased 5.9 percent for the just-ended school year.
That hits hard locally. Seventy-three percent of Temple's 39,584 students come from Pennsylvania, attending the main campus in North Philadelphia and others as near as Ambler and as far as Japan. A third of all students come from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, and a quarter come from Philadelphia.
They're drawn not just to a solid local school, but to an institution whose reputation and ambition continues to grow, driven by new recruitment in research and a large role in educating students of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, podiatry, and law.
Many students consider Temple a bargain - 17 percent less than the University of Pittsburgh, 18 percent less than Pennsylvania State University. Like other Pennsylvania institutions, it's about to become less of one.
This school year, Temple's state funding totalled $179 million.
Gov. Corbett initially proposed the 50 percent cut in higher-ed funding to help close a $4 billion budget gap. GOP House leaders say they can halve that cut and still balance the budget.
In the midst of a calamitous recession, government officials here and elsewhere say they have no good options. More than 40 states have slashed funding for colleges.
Part of the debate has turned on whether sending tax money to state universities benefits the public or the individual - and what share of the cost each should pay.
"When state officials look at universities, they see people who look like paying customers - they're called students. And officials think, 'We can ask them to pay a little bit more,' " said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents 2,000 public and private universities. "There's no way you can absorb a 25 percent cut in a major revenue source without it having a significant impact on the services you're able to deliver."
In many places, an immediate solution has been to recruit more students who pay full cost. In the giant University of California system, some in-state applicants complain they've been overlooked in favor of out-of-staters who pay three times the tuition.
Temple officials say they have no plans for heavier out-of-state recruitment. They plan to carve $40 million from the $1.1 billion budget, on top of a previous, permanent $40 million reduction. The earlier cut eliminated 150 jobs, and raises for nonunion workers were canceled.
Now the focus will be on reducing business and nonacademic costs, thinning the administration, increasing fund-raising, and searching for efficiencies, including pooling support services.
It's too early to say whether staff will be laid off. But consolidation of jobs likely will result in lower overall employment next fall, administrators said.
Importantly, Temple officials intend to use financial reserves to blunt the impact of the state cut, treating the reduction as though it were to be phased in during two years, not imposed in five weeks.
"It allows us to be more strategic, rather than just slashing," said Kenneth Kaiser, senior associate vice president for finance and human resources.
The school also is examining whether it can raise revenue by adding enrollment in specific areas, like adult evening education - which wouldn't require new classrooms.
"The commitment to excellence and achievement," Hart said, "is not dimmed."
Teaching night owls
At times during his life, Russell Conwell was a Union Army officer, preacher, author, lyricist, and teacher. He founded Temple. But he was probably best known as an orator, and known especially for one particular piece of oration, a speech he delivered some 6,000 times.
Conwell told audiences that after the Civil War he was riding in a camel caravan in Mesopotamia, listening as the guide spun stories. One was the tale of a well-to-do farmer, Ali Hafed, who left his land and family to search for rumored fields of diamonds.
Hafed's quest became endless. He died poor, alone, and far from home. Not long afterward, diamonds were found on his old farm.
"Your diamonds are not in far-away mountains or in distant seas," Conwell told audiences. "They are in your own backyard if you will but dig for them."
In Philadelphia, he dug.
In 1882, he became pastor of Grace Baptist Church, and two years later, he began providing night-time tutoring for a young workingman. Other students showed up, first in handfuls, then in droves, to attend night classes at the church temple.
In 1888, a charter was issued for "The Temple College." The school's Owls nickname harks back to its earliest days - when Conwell tutored working-class "night owls."
Ambitious plan on track
Temple is no night school, nor a place where every successful student can expect acceptance.
Applications, and SAT scores, are up. The six-year graduation rate has grown to 67 percent from 44 percent a decade a go. Nationally, it's 54 percent at public colleges.
More research faculty members are being recruited, and those hirings will continue on a case-by-case basis.
An ambitious, $1.2 billion building plan to support more research, which includes a science center and library on Broad Street, is still on track. To complete that, the school will draw on an annual state contribution dedicated to bricks-and-mortar projects, gifts from donors, loans, and university reserves.
The plan of House GOP leaders, approved last week, uses cuts in welfare programs to restore some education money. The four state-related universities - Temple, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Lincoln - would suffer a 25 percent cut. The 14 state-owned schools, which include West Chester University, would lose 15 percent.
For Temple, the cut represents 4 percent of its budget.
It's unclear whether the plan will win support in the State Senate or from Corbett.
"I worry about layoffs and cuts to programs," said Temple student Angelo Fichera of Brick, N.J. "I don't think there's any positive outcomes."
Faculty costs is an area that has suffered cuts.
Full-time faculty are being asked to teach more classes or bigger classes, or both, said Hochner, the union leader.
Temple employs 1,944 full-time faculty, divided into tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track teachers, according to the school. Non-tenure-track faculty increased slightly, from 45 percent to 47 percent, between 2006 and 2010.
Hochner said those faculty members were much cheaper to hire, with median salaries for those hired in fall 2010 at $54,000, compared to $88,500 for tenure-track teachers. They earn fewer benefits, teach more classes, and because they work on contract, offer the school the flexibility to quickly grow or shrink the staff in particular areas.
The number of part-time faculty, known as adjuncts, shrank slightly from 1,490 to 1,483 between 2006 and 2010.
For university officials, the question isn't only what happens now, but what happens next. Does state support dwindle year after year? And how can Temple and other colleges make up the losses?
"The options are pretty limited," said John Burness, a former vice president at Duke University and a trustee of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. "It really does get down to, what kind of society do we want to have? And where are we going to make investments to have that?"