Commentary

The plan to consolidate Pa. State System universities is short-sighted. Vote ‘No’ | Opinion

The original library at West Chester University, West Chester, Pa. (Flickr Commons photo by Rossano).

By Andrew Shoffner

As Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Daniel Greenstein continues his mission to consolidate six PASSHE universities into two, I cannot help but wonder what will happen to the communities that are host to these schools.

Why do the Greenstein and the PASSHE Board of Governors seem to be moving forward with a plan that will strip students of future opportunities and relegate them to taking an unknown number of online classes, but does not reduce tuition? This plan just does not make sense.

I am a proud 1997 graduate of West Chester University. I love the West Chester community so much that I have never left, buying a home, raising my family, and founding a business in West Chester Borough.

I personally know dozens of other WCU graduates who likewise rooted themselves in the community that once hosted them as students. Like in so many university towns in our state, West Chester University contributes to our vibrant community, providing jobs, cultural opportunities, and boosting the local economy.

My business partner and I are both West Chester alums. Our education and our extracurricular activities gave us the foundational skills needed to launch our company, WiFi Integrators for Innovation, of West Chester, Pa., in 2011, which designs and implements WiFi networks and technologies to clients nationwide.

I was twice elected the president of the Student Government Association. I was a full member of the executive search committee for our new provost, the chair of the Board of SGA Presidents. And I was a proud member of the PASSHE Board of Governors.

In my time on the Board of Governors, if a chancellor would have presented a consolidation plan with so many unknowns to the board, as Greenstein did last month, I would have voted against pursuing a half-baked plan, as Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, and student member Nicole Dunlap did.

Six Pa. State System universities could be consolidated. What to know ahead of four public meetings

There are just too many outstanding questions.

We do not know if universities will be able to keep their current Division I and Division II sports programs or whether academic programs and sports will retain their accreditation.

We do not know how many credits students would be forced to take virtually, and how universities will ensure that online learning is equitable.

College students have worked hard to function through three semesters of online learning. Most students and parents do not seem to like learning online – but the consolidation plan would require more of it.

We do not know the ultimate economic impact of consolidation on our communities – because PASSHE has not disclosed their economic impact analysis, only to claim it’s “minimal.”

We do know that a study by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute estimates that the Greenstein’s plan would cause more than 2,200 job losses around the state, as well as $11.6 million in lost state and local revenues annually.

This does not sound minimal to me.

What we do know is that university consolidation would not lower tuition, and many of the opportunities identified as potential cost savings for students already exist. We know that PASSHE says the plan will save $18.4 million over five years, but they also admit it will cost $29.6 million.

Finally, we know that the federal American Rescue Plan includes $219 million for state system universities, half of which is designated for student aid. These dollars can be used for technology, new safety improvements, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll, and it must be spent by December 31, 2024.

Why is PASSHE rushing to implement a full-fledged consolidation plan so quickly when this federal funding would buy the system time to have a more thorough evaluation of its needs and opportunities over the next two and a half years?

I am loathed to think that Greenstein is attempting to leverage uncertainty during a pandemic to move the plan that he wanted all along. That would be reprehensible and against everything our founding chancellor, Dr. Jim McCormick, fought for.

I urge the members of the Board of Governors to consider the long-term implications of this short-sighted plan and vote “No” for consolidation. I urge my former classmates and other state system alumni and other residents of State System university communities to loudly voice their opposition to this plan, as well. The future of these communities and our state depend on it.

Andrew Shoffner is the founding partner at WiFi Integrators, and a West Chester University alumnus. He writes from West Chester, Pa. 

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