Investing in the State University System to Boost the Workforce

Pennsylvania businesses of all sizes are struggling to find enough skilled workers for a sizable number of open jobs. I know that at M&T Bank, we are experiencing a historic number of vacancies, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that our community lacks enough people with the education and training to fill all the jobs.

Nearly 60% of jobs in Pennsylvania require some level of higher education, but only about 51% of the workforce have it. The lack of talent is impacting healthcare, information technology, business and other industries that people rely on.

The talent gap has widened as funding for public universities has fallen behind. Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation for investment in four-year public universities like the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Annual government funding has decreased by 35% ($252 million) since 2000-2001, after adjusting for inflation.

If Pennsylvania’s workforce is going to have the talented people employers need, then the legislature must reinvest in our public universities.

I am proud to sit on the board of directors of the foundation which provides financial support to 90,000 PASSHE students. Universities have campuses across the state that provide affordable education for low- and middle-income students, providing them with a career path to learn and pursue the American Dream.

These exciting opportunities are life-changing for students, with more than 70% of state system graduates remaining in Pennsylvania. They get good jobs, put down roots in their communities, and build families and meaningful lives here.

As Regional Director of ARC at M&T Bank, I am also proud that our universities are making great strides to serve more diverse students. Nearly a quarter of enrolled students are minorities and a record 20% are adults. Today, three out of four minority graduates from low-income families move up to higher-income status and earn almost as much as students from high-income families. This is a tremendous achievement that creates a more diverse pool of potential employees for Pennsylvania businesses.

M&T Bank has long supported the PASSHE Foundation by providing scholarship funds for low- and middle-income freshmen so that they can start their higher education journey with financial assistance. The bank has also committed $50,000 to support emergency aid for students so they can continue their academic journey and created an endowed scholarship so rising juniors and seniors can complete their journey.

Our state system universities are an engine of workforce development and are being revamped to ensure students are ready for high-demand jobs. Now the state must invest in students and in our economy.

In April, the system’s Board of Governors voted to freeze tuition fees for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, as a leap of faith that lawmakers would fulfill their part of the system’s ambitious overhaul by reinvesting in universities.

To offset the need for a tuition increase, the system is asking for $550 million from the state, a $75 million increase, as well as $201 million in direct student financial aid to reduce the cost for students and families, and at least $75 million. million of the remaining $150 million in federal funding, the General Assembly and the Governor pledged to continue the vigorous transformation of public universities.

I urge the legislature to provide the funding. The importance of this funding request demonstrates the urgency of this moment for universities and our workforce. Public higher education is the most cost-effective way to address our labor shortages by preparing thousands of low- and middle-income students and creating a pool of well-educated and skilled workers. Let’s educate our students in Pennsylvania to stay in Pennsylvania. The future of our businesses and the Pennsylvania economy depends on it.

Gail M. D’Angelo is Senior Vice President, ARC Regional Manager for Pennsylvania at M&T Bank.

Gail D’Angelo

Michael A. Bynum