PASCU President Says “Public” Higher Education Has Become Illusory and Increasingly Replaced by the Onerous Reality of “Government” Higher Education

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Angelo Armenti, Jr., the president of Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU), says that the growing funding/governance disparity in so-called “public” higher education reveals a sad fact: true public higher education in America is disappearing at an alarming rate, even as state-funding continues to erode, while state-control is either constant or increasing.

Privatization Without a Plan

Traditional highly-subsidized public higher education could vanish entirely in America in just one more generation.

There was a time, according to Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU) President Angelo Armenti, Jr., when the term “public” higher education meant “highly state-subsidized” higher education—a truly public good that made higher education readily accessible to citizens of even limited means. That public policy returned economic and other civic benefits to the larger society in a virtuous circle that accounted for much of the shared prosperity of the 80s and 90s.

But for a host of reasons, the former public policy was gradually replaced with a view that public higher education was a private good requiring today’s beneficiaries increasingly to pay for it themselves. And while the former public policy is largely gone, so too is the good that once flowed from it, as the states and country struggle financially, and too many college-educated citizens fight to find appropriate work.    

The funding/governance disparity in Pennsylvania and its growing negative effects on both the PASSHE universities and PASSHE students, are described in detail in Armenti’s new book¹ entitled, “Privatization Without a Plan: A Failure of Leadership in Pennsylvania Public Higher Education.”

Armenti points to an observation by speculative fiction novelist, William Gibson: “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.”

Armenti says the truth of William Gibson’s statement may clearly be seen in data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) for FY 2012.² Those data reveal that 24 out of the 50 states that year provided less than 50% of the annual funding for “public” higher education institutions sponsored by those states, while 26 states provided more than 50%. But the range of variation in levels of state support is amazingly large.

By way of background, public higher education in America today receives financial support from two major sources—state funding provided by State legislatures, and “net tuition” provided by students and parents—with the respective shares varying greatly, state to state, from about 70%/30% to 30%/70%!

Net tuition is defined as the funding provided by students and parents, less financial aid.

Majority versus Minority Shareholders

Factually, no state in America today provides 100% of the funding for public higher education.

When states provided all or nearly all the funding, one need only be concerned with the “State Funding Share.” Now we must also be concerned with “Net Tuition Funding Share” since students and parents in America today are large, and in some states, the majority financial sponsors of public higher education.

Even states with the highest funding shares still require “net-tuition” funding. For example, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Alaska and North Carolina require 13.8%, 22.8%, 25.6%, 27.6% and 28.5% of the funding from net tuition to complement their much larger state shares.

While at the same time Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Colorado and Pennsylvania require 85.1%, 84.5%, 72.9%, 70.8% and 69.9% of public higher education funding from net tuition, to supplement their much smaller state funding shares.

“Governance Share,” on the other hand, is defined as the percentage share of seats on the various governing bodies that are controlled by the various financial stakeholders.

The Need for a New Classification Scheme for “Public” Higher Education

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone.” Confucius

A new classification scheme below proposes a total of three descriptors, with “public” being retained, “State-Related” and “Government” being added, and all three being more precisely defined in terms of funding share and governance share as follows:    

Public Higher Education: State Funding Share greater than 50%; State Governance Share greater than 50%

State Related Higher Education: State Funding Share less than 50%; State Governance Share less than 50%

Government Higher Education: State Funding Share less than 50%; State Governance Share greater than 50%

The Ongoing Privatization of Public Higher Education

In Privatization Without a Plan, Armenti documented the privatization of public higher education in Pennsylvania over the last 30 years. For the current (2013-14) fiscal year, based on the classification scheme just cited above, the “public” higher education provided through the fourteen “State-owned” universities in Pennsylvania would now earn the dubious distinction of “Government Higher Education,” owing to a state funding share of 25% coupled with a state governance share of 100%. But as the SHEEO data clearly attest, Pennsylvania is hardly alone.

American public higher education has been rapidly privatized in just one generation. In FY 2012, the average net tuition share of funding for public higher education across the 50 states was 47.0%, up from 23.3% just 25 years ago in 1987. The average net tuition contribution to public higher education funding across America has been increasing inexorably at about one percent per year for the past 25 years!

Should that rate continue, traditional highly-subsidized public higher education could vanish entirely in America in just one more generation. We must hope that in its wake will follow more examples of “State-related higher education” and fewer examples of “Government Higher Education.”

² p 32, Figure 7

The Role of PASCU

PASCU’s mission is “To ensure that the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania as specified by Act 188 of 1982: ‘High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,’ is indefinitely preserved and faithfully delivered.” To advance that mission, PASCU seeks to reform the governance of PASSHE so as to enable it achieve its statutory purpose as mandated by Act 188.

Dr. Angelo Armenti Jr. served as President of California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) from 1992 to 2012. Before that, he was a Dean at Villanova University, a professor of physics, and author of The Physics of Sports (American Institute of Physics, 1992). During his career at Cal U, Armenti is credited with establishing numerous funding sources for student scholarships and for campus revitalization projects, efforts made in part to address the problems that he describes in Privatization Without a Plan. In June of 2012, Armenti founded a non-profit corporation entitled The Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU) whose mission it is to preserve the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania. He also writes for his blog at

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