Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race is officially set, with Tom Wolf winning the Democratic nomination. Wolf will face incumbent Tom Corbett in November, and heavy implications for both Pennsylvania and Penn State are on the horizon. We took a look at what each candidate means for Penn State.
Democratic Candidate Tom Wolf:
Tom Wolf’s education platform is mostly focused on the state’s public education system, but does include programs for post-secondary education. His platform includes in-state tuition rates for all veterans, financial support for traditionally underserved students, and the expansion of 2+2 programs, which are already utilized through Penn State’s commonwealth campuses.
In terms of financial support for underserved students, Wolf’s platform calls for universities to help students with financial resources, provide training to guidance counselors who work with prospective students, and provide information to prospective students on state and county human services. These programs may help ease Penn State’s notoriously strict financial grant and aid policies, but will probably have a greater effect on Pennsylvania’s state universities due to the commonwealth’s lack of power over Penn State policies.
Wolf’s plan also calls for an expansion of 2+2 programs, specifically with students earning an associate’s degree in STEM-specific subjects after two years. Penn State’s 19 commonwealth campuses already operate under a 2+2 format, with most students transferring to University Park following their second year, so the university already has part of the plan in place. The university would need to add the ability for students to receive associate’s degrees while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at almost every commonwealth campus, specifically the addition of more STEM-related degree programs. With a need for more programs, the university will need to hire even more staff, which can lead to increased tuition costs unless the programs are funded by the state at least in the short term.
Overall, with Wolf as governor, Penn State will most likely see an increase in its state appropriations, which were cut by 30 percent throughout Corbett’s tenure. By utilizing a proposed 5 percent Marcellus Shale severance tax for funding, Wolf does not intend to increase other taxes for residents of the state, which can be an extra burden on college students on top of ever-rising tuition costs. With a direct correlation between state appropriations and tuition costs, a change in Pennsylvania’s recent trend can be beneficial to Penn State students.
Republican Incumbent Tom Corbett:
Tom Corbett is fighting an uphill battle. In a Quinnipiac survey conducted in late February, confidence in Corbett was not high. The survey results showed that 34 to 55 percent of respondents believe that Corbett does not deserve re-election, and his approval rating echoed that sentiment, falling to an almost all-time low. This isn’t stopping Corbett from running a motivated re-election campaign, championing the theme of “promises kept” across his multiple platform points, including education, Pennsylvania’s economy, and improving Pennsylvania roads.
Much like his Democratic Challenger, Corbett’s education platform focuses primarily on Pennsylvania’s public education system, and doesn’t specifically address higher education and state appropriations as they pertain to Penn State. His campaign claims that, “Pennsylvania spends more on basic education than any other time in our state’s history.” However, the strongest claim it can make regarding higher education is that, “Tom has also helped to limit tuition increases at our state universities. This claim is especially interesting, considering that Penn State received level funding in 2013, Corbett proposed sharp funding cuts in 2012, and similar sweeping cuts in 2011.
While Corbett can’t champion his support of higher education, his tenure did boast the lowest unemployment rate since November 2008 at 6.2 percent, and is below the national average of 6.7 percent. This is promising news for recent graduates and rising seniors, as post-graduate employment is crucial. According to Corbett’s re-election website, not only has the jobless rate in Pennsylvania reached a five-year low, but Pennsylvania has added more than 150,000 new private-sector jobs during his term.
In his four years as Pennsylvania’s chief executive, Corbett did arguably help Pennsylvania, but not Penn State specifically. Looking at the upcoming election with a selfish, narrow lens of high-education spending and priorities, Corbett doesn’t come out on top. In fact, in recent polls considering all issues, Corbett is consistently behind. November 4 is election day, but it might not end up being much of an election.