HARRISBURG, Pa. – From rivals to partners.
On Tuesday, July 14, the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) unanimously approved to integrate six of PASSHE 14 institutions into two new universities.
The affirmative 18-0 vote means that California, Clarion, and Edinboro will come together to form a single university with three partner campuses in Western Pennsylvania, while Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield will do likewise in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“Today’s vote represents the most profound reimagining of public higher education in the Commonwealth since the State System began in 1983,” said Cindy Shapira, chair of the Board of Governors. “This effort has proven we can fulfill what we set out to do— ensuring student and institutional success while providing the highest quality education at the lowest possible price.”
Jamie Martin, PHD, the President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, expressed the organization’s concerns with the plan.
“It is no secret that APSCUF has had questions and concerns about the plans, and those who spoke against or who want to delay consolidation have valid, important concerns,” Martin said. “We hoped improvements could be made that did not involve such fundamental changes to our universities.
“The vote today is one step, and it does not complete the consolidation process. There is still a lot to be determined and many questions to be answered. We trust that when the answers come — and as additional feedback and suggestions are given — they will guide the plan moving forward, will allow for course correction when new information or issues suggest it and will allow for substantive changes if warranted. APSCUF is committed to advocating for students and members. We will continue working to make sure our students are heard — and they must be heard, in person, when they return to campus in the fall. We will do all we can to make sure the outcome is the best it can be for our students. Our universities continue to be places of great opportunity, with faculty and coaches who care deeply about their students and student-athletes.”
According to a media release put out by PASSHE, the six institutions involved in the integrations will maintain their historical names and identities along with robust residential educational experiences while expanding academic program opportunities, enhancing supports that improve outcomes for all our students, and reaching communities that are currently underserved.
“These universities have been part of the cultural and economic fabric of their communities for well over a century and they will continue to be so for years to come,” Chancellor Dan Greenstein said. “Additionally, the degrees they offer to new graduates, as well as those held by alumni will maintain the highest value. We set out on this journey determined to do what’s right for students, their communities, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am humbled and tremendously excited by the opportunity we have today to work together, building towards that objective. I want to thank the people who dedicated their time and ideas in crafting and commenting on the plan and look forward to working with you and all our stakeholders going forward.”
In a statement made to the PASSHE Board of Governors prior to the vote, Martin expressed some additional concerns.
“Over the past months, I have voiced my concerns — and those of my colleagues — for our students at the six consolidating universities,” Martin said. “Questions and concerns still remain. For example, the guide to plan changes, a document that I believe will be presented today, states that there will be ‘relatively limited overall reliance on online modalities for residential students’; however, I cannot find this information detailed in the updated plans. Today I hope to hear more specific information about the extent to which our students will need to take online courses to complete their degrees. I have deep concerns about the student survey that is included in the updated plans. I will not address all of those concerns today. I will highlight, though, that the response rate is extremely low: For prospective students, it is 1%, and for current PASSHE students, it is 4%. You cannot draw any valid and meaningful conclusions from data that is based on a sample with such a meager response rate.
“There are other important questions remaining. For example, what will happen to accredited programs on our campuses? Will an expensive and time-consuming reaccreditation be necessary for each of these? What will happen with Middle States accreditation? What about the decision of the NCAA permitting athletic teams to remain on all six campuses? These and other questions have not only been raised by my colleagues but many other stakeholders. We understand that these decisions are not required for the plans to move to a vote but to dismiss their importance only exacerbates the fear and uncertainty of our faculty, students, staff, and other stakeholder groups.
Watch Martin’s full comments
According to PASSHE, the efforts to complete the two integrations will take years saying that among the most important tasks are developing the curriculum that supports the new academic program array, fleshing out organizational charts, and finalizing work with the NCAA to ensure athletics will continue at each campus.
“As we have said from the beginning, building an integrated university will take time,” Greenstein said. “You cannot flip a switch and expect it to be done. The work will engage all stakeholders, be conducted transparently through routine quarterly reporting to the Board and the General Assembly, and be subjected to our constant review and refinement so that we accomplish the best possible result for our students and their communities, now and in the future.”
The PASHHE Board also appointed Bashar Hanna as interim president of Mansfield and Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson as interim president of California to begin no later than Aug. 1. Hanna currently serves as president of Bloomsburg and interim president of Lock Haven, while Pehrsson serves as president of Clarion and interim president of Edinboro.
According to PASHHE, the appointments of Hanna and Pehrsson will help to ensure a smooth leadership transition while the first phase of integrations implementation gets underway. They will serve in these roles until permanent presidents are selected for the integrated universities according to the Board’s policy for presidential appointments, which requires the involvement of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and others in the process.
New organizational charts are expected to be released in the coming months as the institutions begin the transition process. Integrations means with three partner campuses—each maintaining their unique brand identities and on-campus educational and student life experiences—there will be a single administration, budget, unified faculty, and student information system, helping to put these institutions on more solid financial footing while expanding access to an increased number of programs across the institutions.
According to PASHHE, key to supporting this effort is the Commonwealth’s recent commitment of $200 million over four years that will be used to invest in student success initiatives, reduce current debt loads, and support faculty and staff training and transition.
The first cohort of students will begin at an integrated university in August 2022, with the integrated curriculum being finalized by August of 2024.
Integrations are made possible by Act 50 of 2020, which received near-unanimous support in the state Legislature and Governor’s Office. It lays out a process, including ongoing, quarterly consultation with elected officials, by which the State System can restructure itself for the benefit of students, to improve financial sustainability, and to continue to serve their regions with educational opportunities and as major employers.