With the cost of college tuition today, news that 27 private colleges in Pennsylvania are seeking nearly $300 million in state money for development, might qualify as a stunning revelation.
Private entities seeking public funds can be a slippery slope. Utilizing public funds in an educational setting, even at a private university, however, has some validity.
When a university like Bucknell or Susquehanna — both of which cost around $50,000 a year to attend — get public money, surrounding communities benefit just as much, if not more, than the school itself.
There are plenty of private universities in small towns all around Pennsylvania. In those places, a strong town-and-gown relationship is not just a hope; it is a necessity, essential to the success and growth of both. As Lewisburg Mayor Judy Wagner says, "The downtown benefits from the college and the college benefits from the downtown. It has worked beautifully."
Receiving public funds comes with an enormous responsibility, one that can be abused by officials whose lack of vision can quickly turn into wasteful spending. For some, it is free money and if a project does not work out, well, the money wasn't coming out of their pocket anyway. That is an unacceptable viewpoint.
Government does not do anything to create money on its own; it gets its funds to redistribute through various forms of taxation.
So when the government allocates money, someone needs to be accountable and the project ought to make a positive impact, particularly when financing redevelopment within a private organization.
The money can't just be a net gain for the school or hospital or private businesses trying to raise capital. Absolutely defining that success is difficult, but we know what it looks like when we see it.
One of these undefined successes in the Valley can been seen Lewisburg's downtown, which has thrived in recent years, thanks its aggressive approach to business and a valuable relationship with Bucknell.
The university's bookstore has quickly turned into one of the town's anchors. It gives the school a clear presence on the main thoroughfare where students and townspeople alike flock on a regular basis. There seems to be a widespread consensus that this knits the Bucknell/Lewisburg community
"The downtown is the hub of our community," says Wagner. "Our Downtown Partnership and Bucknell have worked together from the start because the reinvestment helps everyone."
Maybe that can be the new definition.