Earlier in the week Cornell University’s president, David Skorton, announced a promising plan to save higher education from bankrupting students. Four hours south, however, the governor of Pennsylvania proposed a plan that will almost surely make college more expensive. Which man represents the future?

“If state support for higher education does not stabilize and, eventually, increase at a reasonable rate, public colleges and universities will have no alternative to raising their tuitions… and our nation will no longer be an equal opportunity society,” Skorton wrote for the Huffington Post. “Our great public colleges and universities deserve robust public investment, in good times and bad. Without it we cannot offer the superlative education for which our country remains the world leader.”

What Skorton proposes is a potentially promising idea, but it may not be terribly realistic. Welcome to the unequal opportunity society.

Yesterday, for instance, according to an article by Steve Esack and John Micek in The Morning Call:

[Pennsylvania] Gov. Tom Corbett [above] wants to fundamentally reshape the way Pennsylvania pays for all levels of public education, a move he says is good for the mind, soul and wallets of taxpayers in an economy that’s left state coffers $710 million short of revenue.

The biggest change in the $27.14 billion spending plan for 2012-13 would come in higher education, where Corbett proposes a $1.4 billion cut as part of what he calls an attempt to right-size the state’s system.

“Right-size” means cutting $330 million (a 20 percent reduction) from Pennsylvania’s 14 state colleges, and $147.4 million (that’s 30 percent decrease) from the other state institutions (Penn State, Temple, and the University of Pittsburgh). The state will take $8.8 million away from community colleges.

This comes in addition to a $362 million cut in state-supported student loans.

Corbett’s plan is a characteristic example of what many see as the fundamental problem in higher education, and the reason for escalating tuition and student debt: declining state support for public colleges.

Corbett, a Republican, said the cuts were “necessary.” He’s apparently going to convene a committee to issue suggestions for more changes so that “our universities can best serve the students and citizens of this new century.” [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer