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Should Higher Education Switch to a Voucher Model?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has been in the spotlight recently due to his proposed funding cuts to the state’s higher education institutions. Last week, in a meeting with reporters and editors from Digital First Media, the governor suggested a redesign of the state’s funding model that would place funds into the hands of consumers rather than producers.

“One of the thoughts I would throw out there and for you to think about it, I don’t have an answer on it one way or the other right now, is what if we didn’t fund either one of the two systems?” he said. “What if we took all that money, put it in a fee and said: You know what? Any Pennsylvania student, we’ll give you X amount of money and you can go to any school in Pennsylvania, public, private, state-related, state system or technical.”

This has created a rift between the state’s public and private colleges, who wind up on different sides of the fence with the suggestion.

Bradley Dexter, vice president of Marketing and Communications at Alvernia University—a private university—told the Daily Local News in an email that the move sits well with his colleges.

“Gov. Corbett’s idea of making state higher education aid ‘portable’ in this way is certainly more market-driven and may facilitate greater innovation among the state’s public and private institutions as they become more competitive in addressing the needs of Pennsylvania’s college students,” Dexter wrote. “We would fully support moving in that direction.”

However, the President of Montgomery County Community College Karen Stout told the newspaper that such a change would hamstring publically-funded institutions who cannot bring in gifts and donations from its alumni.

“Often our alumni are just too busy trying to make a living to be making donations to their community college,” she said. “Any process that provides no overall funding to a public institution and instead shifts those dollars into marketplace solutions, will favor institutions that already have independent, private funding sources.”

She went on to say that given the importance of higher education in economic growth, it was important to ensure the greatest access to quality higher education in the state.

“MCCC would be very competitive in some respects, but not if all public funding went away,” Stout said. “We’re open to talking about vouchers, and perhaps I could see some sort of hybrid system, but not before we adopted a policy for funding what are truly public institutions.”