HARRISBURG - Calling Gov. Corbett's proposed cuts to higher education "unacceptable," lawmakers from both sides of the aisle told university officials and students that they'll be fighting for more funding in the final spending plan.
House lawmakers echoed their Senate colleagues in their support of restoring a portion of the $554 million to be slashed from assistance to state system schools and the four state-related universities - Pennsylvania State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln.
"We simply can't own, or say that we own, a state system of higher education and then not fund it," said Rep. Glen Grell (R., Cumberland).
As university officials were pleading their case before a House panel, hundreds of college students filled the Capitol steps to reinforce that message.
Armed with signs reading "We're already broke" and "Cutting education just funds ignorance," students hollered loudly in the freezing weather as lawmakers pledged to help.
"We know these are difficult times," said Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny). "We know there is a proposal to cut funding for our state-supported colleges and universities in half," drawing boos from the crowd as he mentioned the governor's budget plan.
"And we know we will not let our students carry all of that burden!" Frankel shouted, as the boos turned to cheers.
The governor has defended those cuts as necessary to help fill a $4.2 billion budget gap. His administration says universities have been hiking tuition even with state aid and need to reexamine their own budgets.
Penn State and the state system schools are discussing salary freezes for staff, but those officials say tuition increases and other changes also would be needed.
For the state system schools, the loss of $232 million in state funds and an additional $38 million in federal stimulus money would divide out to an average cut of $19 million per school.
State System Chancellor John Cavanaugh said state funding accounts for nearly one-third of the operating budget at those schools. At Clarion University, that would mean decisions on the scale of cutting 176 full-time jobs or eliminating the business college, said Karen Whitney, the school's president.
Edinboro University student Jeanine Hertzog, who attended the rally, said a tuition increase could mean putting off her final year of school so she can work and save money. She and dozens of her fellow Edinboro classmates boarded a bus at 4:30 a.m. to trek to the Capitol.
"I know the governor was trying to do the right thing," Hertzog said. "I just do not agree with the cuts to basic and higher education."
Others, including Kutztown University professor Paul Quinn, who heads of the school's branch of Association of State College and University Professors, aimed their anger over the cuts directly at the governor.
He led the rally-goers in shouting, "Who is the enemy? Corbett!"
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor did not view himself as the enemy.
"What he's trying to do is create an economic environment where they don't have to move to another state to have jobs," Harley said.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate student Belinda Arndt said she hoped to use her political science degree to work in government, but has been discouraged by what she has heard from state politicians.