HARRISBURG, Pa. – With an eye toward expanding opportunity and service to the Commonwealth, the Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education affirmed Wednesday the System’s efforts to continue planning for the integration of six of its universities.
(Photo courtesy Clarion University.)
The board unanimously affirmed the process and next step after Chancellor Dan Greenstein presented findings from an initial financial review of the proposed integrations. The System is exploring two possible combinations – California-Clarion-Edinboro and Bloomsburg-Lock Haven-Mansfield – and each integration would operate as a single accredited entity with a single leadership, faculty, enrollment management strategy, and budget while honoring local identity.
“The data and the analysis are showing clearly that the path forward on integrations will mean greater student opportunity in regions critical to Pennsylvania’s economy,” Greenstein said. “As we strive to hold our place as the affordable public higher education option, we must continue to think and act boldly so that any Pennsylvanian, regardless of zip code, can continue their education at a State System university.”
The next step in the integrations process is development of an implementation plan, which could be presented to the Board as early as April 2021. The process, laid out in Act 50 of 2020, includes a 60-day public comment period and periodic updates to members of the General Assembly. The earliest an integrated university could begin accepting students would be August 2022.
The Board also approved Wednesday a resolution that authorized the Chancellor to seek $487 million in state appropriations for 2021-22 (a 2% increase over the current year). The System will also seek $25 million for System Redesign efforts as part of a multi-year request approved by the Board last year.
“We enjoy a collaborative, candid, and supportive partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Chair Cindy Shapira. “We acknowledge that the State has many challenges to confront due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we also have a strong case to make that the State System is critical to the success of Pennsylvania’s economic future. That success depends on robust support from the Commonwealth that keeps tuition low, and we look forward to further conversations with our partners about the path forward.”
The appropriations request comes at a time when the State System has shown resolve, creativity, and success, both before and during the current pandemic. The integrations program grew out of such efforts and is an example of the System’s ability to be adaptable to the 21st century higher education marketplace.
Regarding the potential integrations, Greenstein’s presentation included preliminary projections of enrollment growth of between 4 and 5 percent for the two combinations due to their combined size. Thanks to potential enrollment growth as well as cost efficiencies tied to leveraging their combined size, the analysis of integrations showed potential improved operating margins and primary reserve ratios within the next three to five years.
Greenstein also reiterated a goal of the two integrations is serve new student groups who need affordable access to postsecondary education while also providing traditional, residential, in-class educational experiences. For California-Clarion-Edinboro, that means a robust, affordable, career-relevant online program based here in Pennsylvania, and for Bloomsburg-Lock Haven-Mansfield, creation of quick-burst, non-degree, certificate or stackable credential programs to bolster northern Pennsylvania’s job market.
“The communities where these universities have for more than a century provided pathways to a better life for students, they’re depending on us to be nimble, adaptable, and continue providing career-relevant, post-secondary higher education opportunities,” Greenstein said. “That’s why we’re challenging the status quo and taking this opportunity to shape public higher education for the 21st century.”