Lehigh County lawmaker blasts lack of Latino enrollment in Pa’s state-owned universities

Pa.'s state-owned universities. (Via PASSHE website)

An Allentown lawmaker whose district is majority Latino laced into the head of Pennsylvania’s state university system Tuesday, saying it’s “shameful” that new Latino enrollment has dropped, even as the system schools have touted their recruiting efforts.

State Rep. Peter Schweyer (Pa. House photo)

State Rep. Peter Schweyer, a Democrat, told Daniel Greenstein, the new chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, that he’ll have to do “a better job of building relationships with our communities of color.”  Schweyer’s 22nd House District seat is 54 percent Latino.

Schweyer pointed to the drop of roughly 200 students during Tuesday House Appropriations Committee’s hearing on the state system’s $39 million request for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The appearance was the first for Greenstein, a former California state system administrator, who took office last September.

Schweyer’s intense line of questioning came during an otherwise friendly session before lawmakers for the new administrator. Greenstein drew some laughs and applause for ambitious talk and quick responses to the House panel’s questions on union contracts and efforts to modernize the system.

Things took a turn, however, when Greenstein found himself discussing declining enrollments across the 14-university system, which includes Kutztown, Millersville and East Stroudsburg universities, among other schools.

In response, Greenstein said minority enrollment was not a problem unique to Pennsylvania, and said afterwards that “there was a lot of room for improvement” on getting and keeping black and Latino students in the system.

About 107,000 students go to one of the state’s 14 public universities. A little over 5,000 of them, or 6 percent, are Latino. Seven percent of Pennsylvania’s population, or 834,000 people, is Latino, but Schweyer contended that the state’s college aged individuals are even more diverse.

“He still needs to know what the history is with the legislature,” Schweyer said after the meeting of his line of questioning. “While Republicans kept focusing on labor costs and those sorts of things, part of my history with the legislature is what I feel is a lack of support and investment in communities of color.”

Over the past decade, the appropriation for the state university system has been cut or stagnated. At the same time, tuition has increased 40 percent.

The system’s woes have been so great that Republican lawmakers have suggested shutting the whole system down or at least closing individual schools, calls a few members such as Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Lancaster, echoed Tuesday during the hearing.

But Greenstein said closing a university didn’t make financial, educational or political sense. He added that “we can’t keeping pulling the tuition level as hard as we have been.”

With declining enrollment, dollars per student are at their highest since 2000. While funding for the system increased by 3 percent last year, it remains 48th in the nation for state funding.

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