As colleges and universities continue to look at rising costs, the state Economy League hosted a talk with three officials in education, who discussed the health of state higher education Friday.
"The crystal ball is pretty hazy when it comes to the what-ifs," said Dr. James Douthat, president of Lycoming College.
He added that with "exploding" health care costs, less disposable income for families because of higher tax rates and internet-based schools, it creates a "not very pretty picture."
Dr. Donald Francis, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, said the state was "unique" in the fact that it has a large private college sector, when looking at the current picture of higher education.
According to a chart, 41 percent of students enrolled in state institutions went to a private college or university. These institutions also award almost half the state's bachelor's degrees and 65 percent of its graduate degrees.
Community colleges serve the most low-income undergraduates - based off of students who receive Pell grants - with 33 percent.
Francis also said private institutions created about 79,000 jobs and spend about $5.4 billion on goods and services every year. In the north central region of the state, these private institutions have a $476 million economic impact.
According to Francis, the four state-related universities - Pennsylvania State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University - received the most state funding in 2010-11, followed by the 14 state System of Higher Education schools.
And while the state's general fund expenditures has increased by about 26 percent, its higher education funding has decreased by 10 percent.
"The trend line is not very promising for higher education," Francis said.
Other than a decrease in state funding, changing demographics also are affecting colleges and universities.
Francis said from 2008 to 2020 it is projected there will be 11-percent fewer high school graduates. He said there also are increasing operational costs.
Douthat and Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, president of Pennsylvania College of Technology, said technology is a major cost as they must stay up to date to attract students.
"They expect space. They expect technology," Gilmour said.
Douthat said anyone can turn on the television and see "another set of players," as internet-based colleges have created competition in recruiting students.
He added that the current economic situation has created competition with fundraising, as well. Douthat said it's not just private institutions looking for gifts, but public colleges are, as well.
"There are serious challenges out there," he said.
With less state aid, Gilmour said students must plan when looking at potential enrollment. She added that there are plenty of scholarships that go unclaimed every year.
At the conclusion of his speech, Douthat reminded everyone in the room: "We're all in this together."