Pa.’s state-owned universities. (Via PASSHE website)
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors has approved the most transformative restructuring in the system’s 38-year history, as it voted Wednesday to consolidate six state-owned universities into two regional campuses.
The unanimous vote, which came after weeks of heated public debate, will turn Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities in the northeast and California, Clarion, and Edinboro in the west, into single institutions.
The decision ends a years-long advocacy effort to address sagging enrollment and rising tuition; however, “it’s a journey that will take us more years to complete, board Chairperson Cindy Shapira said.
Under the approved plan, each of the six campuses will remain open and offer a residential experience, but they’ll operate under different names.
“Through it, we will create two regional powerhouses,” State System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein, who said he would recommend dissolving the system if the consolidation plan was voted down earlier this year, said.
Addressing students and families, Greenstein said students will be able to complete their studies and earn their degree “without disruption.”
“You have my word,” he added.
With a phased implementation process, the plan will begin in the fiscal year 2022-23. Consolidated campuses will have one president and a leadership team.
Since students will be attending classes across each campus, online learning and hybrid instruction models are likely, also resulting in layoffs. It’s also unclear how consolidation will affect the campuses’ athletic programs and student organizations.
State System board members, though some noted that the plan still isn’t perfect, said the decision was cause for celebration, adding that it presents an opportunity for the system to redesign education.
“There should be more joy in this whole process and in the whole change because we are able to make it into something that is unique to us, and we can make ourselves something very, very viable in the future,” Zakariya Scott, a board member, and Bloomsburg student, said.
Presidents from California, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities have said consolidation is the best way to address State System problems. Without consolidation, Mansfield President John Ulrich said the university would continue on a path of “scaling back the scope” of student opportunities — “a path from which there’s probably no return,” he said.
But after hearing from hundreds of people who submitted written comments and spoke during public meetings, the State System revised the plan to extend the timeline for curriculum integration and clarify that face-to-face instruction will continue at all six campuses. It was also updated to include data to verify recommendations outlined in the consolidation plan.
Greenstein said he conducted a review of the public comments submitted since May.
Greenstein said more than 150 people requested to delay the vote on consolidation. Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, made a similar request before Wednesday’s vote.
“We’re bleeding cash,” Greenstein said, adding that delaying the vote wouldn’t change the finalized plan and would further exacerbate operating costs.
With the passage of the 2021-22 budget last month, the State System was awarded a three-year commitment of $200 million in funding, but Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, who voted in favor of the plan “with some reservations,” said money isn’t enough to fix the State System.
The board will discuss how to use those budget funds on Thursday.
An April report from three University of Massachusetts-Amherst professors projected a reduction of 1,531 full-time positions. More than half of the lost jobs will be faculty, and their research shows that women will be most impacted.
“Yes, we have concerns about our jobs and our livelihoods,” Todd Spaulding, State College and University Professional Association president, said. “However, the employees are also a large part of the communities in which these universities reside. We are also community members, alumni, and alumni from these campuses.”
Spaulding said the professionals represented by the association across the State System are usually the first people — admissions employees, financial aid representatives, and resident advisors — students meet when they arrive on campus.
Regardless of the vote, Spaulding said the association, which represents State System administrators and employees, will continue to advocate for students on each campus.
He added: “If there are issues that come about because of the integrations, we’ll be here to help solve them and improve our universities.”
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