PASSHE eyes collaboration with community colleges to support integration efforts

‘We need our community college colleagues to step forward — those who have not already.’

By: - August 4, 2021 12:25 pm

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

Pennsylvania’s university system is working to implement the most transformative redesign in its 38-year-history, but efforts to redesign and invest in sustainable educational programs are far from over.

After pushing to integrate six universities into two regional campuses, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Daniel Greenstein is focused on a cultural change — pleading for one that requires community colleges to work with the State System.

Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield in the northeast, and California, Clarion and Edinboro in the west will begin enrolling students as consolidated campuses next August. The State System Board of Governors hopes integration will aid efforts to ensure Pennsylvania offers affordable and high-quality education options. But efforts to maintain state education offerings won’t succeed without partnerships, Greenstein told the House Appropriations and Education committees during a quarterly update on Tuesday.

“You can do all sorts of things as an academic leader. You can set the table. You can serve the food. You can send out the invitations, but you can’t actually require people to come along and eat,” Greenstein said. “But here we are, and we’re open for business, and we need our community college colleagues to step forward — those who have not already.”

In the past, educators and students at community colleges have highlighted difficulties when transferring community college credits at State System schools. This hardship prompted a partnership, signed in 2020, between the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges and Southern New Hampshire University that lets students at Pennsylvania community colleges transfer up to 90 credits and complete their degree online with a 10 percent tuition reduction.

The dialogue with community colleges has been “antagonistic,” Greenstein, who became chancellor in 2018, said. Community colleges and the State System have operated as competitors. Now, they need to think sectorally, he said.

He noted there have been exceptions and highlighted a partnership between Shippensburg University, Harrisburg University, and Harrisburg Area Community College to co-develop a program for students enrolled at each school. Still, Greenstein said collaboration is not consistent across the board.

“To turn this page, we all have to act and behave in different ways,” Greenstein said. “Now, we’re talking about a people problem, a problem of culture.”

He added: “We’re talking about people now, people who have been struggling really to figure out a path through in a highly competitive environment where resources, not just money, are scarce. It requires a significant shift in the way we think. How do you engineer that? That’s what keeps me up.”

Last month, the Board of Governors also approved a policy change that allows for a general degree transfer from community colleges to state-owned schools. The change also permits students who graduate with an associate degree to proceed into a specific program as long as there’s room. Academic officers at State System schools will work with their counterparts at community colleges to implement the policy change; the State System will oversee enforcement across the universities, Greenstein said.

But the policy, which panelists praised, only goes so far, Greenstein added.

“That interpersonal relationship, that care and attention to students that come from both sides working collaboratively, not just in implementing their articulation agreements — important — but in advising, coaching, packaging students who are intending transfers,” he said. “Without that, all of the work that we do on the policy, and even policy enforcement, will just not bear the kind of fruit that we expect and need.”

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