Correction March 23, 2011 - The story below about a rally at Millersville University cited the wrong institution for student enrollment numbers. In 1983, about 81,000 students were enrolled in the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education. Today, about 120,000 students are enrolled in the schools.
Several hundred Millersville University students rallied Tuesday to send a loud and clear message to Gov. Tom Corbett: They can't afford the tuition hikes that would result from his proposed budget.
Toting signs with slogans such as "A great place to learn if you can afford it," "Keep Millersville affordable for all students," "Cut the funds, cut the future" and "Marcellus shale can pay for my education" &tstr; the latter a slam at Harrisburg's refusal to levy a tax on gas companies tapping the state's wealth of natural gas &tstr; students and some faculty jammed into the lobby area of the Student Memorial Center to voice their displeasure.
Corbett's proposed 2011 budget calls for cutting state funding to higher education by 50 percent.
MU student Laura Gochnauer of Conestoga said she fears classes would be cut and higher tuition would cause additional burdens for students trying to pay off loans.
"With the economy the way it is now, a lot of us are going to have trouble paying that debt off in a reasonable amount of time," she said.
Gochnauer spent 45 minutes on Monday meeting with her own state legislator because, she said, she was "so sick and tired of people talking and talking and not doing anything."
She encouraged her fellow students to "talk to your legislators."
Several faculty members also spoke at the rally.
Chuck Ward, professor of philosophy and incoming president of the faculty union, said there is "a great deal of anxiety" over the proposed budget.
"The nature and the quality of the education that is available here is really going to change," he said.
Cheryl Desmond of the educational foundations department said Corbett's cuts would drop state funding to 1983 levels, when Millersville had 81,000 students.
Today, the college has 120,000 students.
"Where did he learn his math?" Desmond asked of Corbett. "Maybe he needs to go back to college."
Charles Greenawalt, associate professor of government and political affairs, noted that a number of people in state government today benefited from Millersville's "affordable education." Without naming names, he said these include Corbett's spokesman and his deputy chief of staff.
Other Millersville graduates, Greenawalt said, include the state's "hottest lobbyist," a former Senate administrator, a former state Senate policy director, the head of Pennsylvania Business Council and state Sen. Mike Brubaker's chief of staff as well as Brubaker's former communication's director.
"The doors for many of these people were opened by a Millersville education," Greenawalt said. "Could they have done it without an affordable education? I don't know. Probably not all of them."
Greenawalt said government can cut costs without crippling education.
"By reducing higher education at affordable institutions, you strangle the middle class," he said. "And without a middle class, you jeopardize democracy."
After the rally, the crowd moved to the multipurpose room for a standing-room-only town hall meeting.
There they heard Roger Bruszewski, MU's vice president for finance and administration, outline Corbett's budget and discuss possible impacts. That was followed by a question-and-answer session.
Prior to this year, Bruszewski told reporters before the meeting, the largest cut he had to face was 25 percent.
"This is double anything I've had to deal with, so I don't have a menu book to look at to see what we're going to do," he said.
"So we'll take it one piece at a time."
He said Corbett's proposed budget would cost MU about $25 million.
Other activities are being planned at the college to highlight the budget's consequences, including a trip to Harrisburg by students on Monday.