With its small classes and on-campus groups, Cameron O’Neill can’t imagine going to school anywhere but Bloomsburg University.
But with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education considering consolidating six of its 14 schools, O’Neill worries she’ll be enrolled at a school she hardly recognizes.
Faced with sagging enrollment, PASSHE has pushed for a redesign since 2016. The most recent plan proposes merging Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Bloomsburg universities and Clarion University, Edinboro University, and California University of Pennsylvania.
“Being in a small, close-knit community allows our students to flourish,” the college junior testified during a recent Senate Democratic Policy Committee meeting. “I’m sure students who choose Lock Haven and Mansfield do so for super-important and personal reasons, just like the students who choose Bloomsburg.”
It’s a plan State System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein has said would cut costs and increase enrollment. In March, Greenstein said that he would recommend dissolving the state system if the board votes against consolidation.
But students, staff, and lawmakers have reservations — citing concerns with how consolidation will affect employment, the local economy of each college town, and challenges with learning in a hybrid environment.
“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me,” O’Neill said of Greenstein. “I have never seen you on my campus. Respectfully, why should I believe that you know what is best for my university instead of the faculty that had been there to support me through the ups and downs of my academic career?”
A formal vote on consolidation is expected in July, and officials are urging Pennsylvanians to participate in four opportunities for public comment, scheduled for June 9 and 10.
“This is really an opportunity not to just talk about sustainability but to talk about the importance of the system and what it delivers and how we all have a stake in it,” Cindy Shapira, Board of Governors chair, said during a work session last week.
The hearings will be conducted virtually; a Zoom link has yet to be shared, but written comments may be submitted online.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the union that represents faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s publicly owned universities, also plans to host public comment sessions on June 3, 8, 14, and 15; registration may be completed online. Though not affiliated with or run by the State System, APSCUF will share comments with PASSHE.
“We’re not going to cut this off,” Shapira said. “We want to hear what people think and have to say, and we’ll even consider, if it’s really overwhelming and we need to schedule another one, we’ll do it. We’ll do what’s necessary so that people have a chance to be heard, and more importantly, we have a chance to hear what people think because we are open to ideas.”