Students attending one of the six Pennsylvania state universities slated for consolidation next year won’t notice much change anytime soon, according to the head of the state university system.
State system of higher education Chancellor Dan Greenstein spoke to state senators on Tuesday about the plan to consolidate six universities into two institutions. Greenstein met with lawmakers in a quarterly update on plans to overhaul the system that aim to put the 14 public universities on a sustainable path.
“It’s important to stress that this is a deliberately slow and intentional process,” Greenstein said.
“I think most students won’t actually see or feel the impacts for a few years and arguably even beyond that, many students won’t see any significant difference,” he said.
The state system board voted last week to move forward with consolidating Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities into one institution and California, Clarion and Edinboro universities into another.
The six campuses would remain open but under a different name. The first class of students to be admitted to either of the combined universities would be in fall 2022, with their program integration expected to be completed by fall 2024.
It was a decision that resulted from a substantial drop in enrollments across the system over the past 10 years. This exacerbated the financial challenges many of these institutions faced to the point that some began to rely on other universities in the system to maintain their operations.
In addition, the affordability advantage that the state’s public higher education institutions had in 2010 has fallen from $ 6,500 less than its closest competitor to around $ 1,500 today, Greenstein said. .
Senate Education Committee Chairman Scott Martin of R-Lancaster County said the system’s unanimous board decision to consolidate universities was “a really powerful message related to the need for action. to go forward. Not taking action was really not an option given the current state of affairs. Martin sits on the system’s board and chaired Tuesday’s hearing.
Greenstein described the goal of making consolidated universities “regional centers of higher education capable of firmly resisting an uncertain future and of serving their students and communities.”
But he said the work was just beginning. He said he would rely on an ongoing partnership with the General Assembly to achieve this.
The two-hour hearing covered a number of topics related to university groupings. Among them were:
Greenstein said the hope is to obtain accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education of the two newly integrated universities next July. He said they plan to file a substantive change request with the middle states in September.
He said the programmatic accreditations along with the NCAA blessing to allow each of the consolidated college campuses to continue to run their own athletic program would follow the action of middle states. Until then, all current accreditations that programs and universities hold remain in place.
Senator Lindsay Williams, of D-Allegheny County, asked what would happen if the NCAA refused the request.
“I guess if the NCAA has any concerns, they’ll voice their concerns rather than a yes or no vote,” Greenstein said. “This is what the middle states do. That’s what accreditors do. This is what regulators do. It’s not a switch that you turn on and off, at least in my experience. It is a dialogue.
He said that if they have any concerns, those responsible for the system will attempt to address them as issues arise.
Funding for the redesign of the system
In this year’s budget discussions, lawmakers pledged the state to provide the public system with $ 50 million this year, the first installment of a $ 200 million three-year commitment to help fund the government. system overhaul effort.
Greenstein shared a pie chart that detailed how this $ 50 million investment plus the $ 25 million the system has earned this year by prepaying its obligations to the state pension system will be spent.
It calls for investing to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion goals and improve workforce aligned programs; spend $ 15 million to launch integrated universities; $ 12.5 for student success initiatives; $ 10 million to develop a system-wide student information system and tackle cybersecurity; $ 15 million to begin supporting an effort to distribute state funding more equitably among universities; and $ 12.5 million for debt relief for the consolidated universities.
About this debt relief
Providing money to help pay off debt for universities to consolidate has sparked concern from Sen. Joe Pittman of R-Indiana County.
“I’m concerned that we’re trying to make integrations look successful and not focus so much on their success or not,” Pittman said. “You know we have eight other universities in the system that also have significant needs, especially when it comes to debt service. “
Greenstein said system officials have explored administrative options to relieve universities struggling with large debt, primarily for residences that are no longer needed on campuses.
“I hope we can work together to find creative ways to solve this problem not only in integrating universities, but more generally as the situation exists throughout the system,” the chancellor said.
Impact of fundraising
Senator Pat Stefano, of R-Fayette County, said the public system’s founding board has expressed concerns about the impact of university consolidations on their ability to raise funds for scholarships.
Greenstein clarified that the foundation board is a separate entity over which the system board has no authority. Additionally, he said virtually all foundation funds are limited to being used as donor requests.
On top of that, he sees redesign efforts as something that should be of benefit to attract dollars.
“The universities of the Pennsylvania state system are now among the most innovative places on the planet in terms of higher education,” the chancellor said. “The broad portfolio we just discussed is really a kind of re-equipping public higher education and reimagining in the 21st century. What a great opportunity. “
Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.
Big change, big opinions: Pennsylvania’s university system and plans to merge 6 campuses