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LHU integration a step closer

PASSHE board gives unanimous support, affirming pending layoffs

LOCK HAVEN – Integration of Lock Haven University with Mansfield and Bloomsburg took a big step forward this week.

The Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the governing body of the 14 state-run schools, on Wednesday affirmed the system’s efforts to continue planning for the integration of six of its universities.

Those six include Bloomsburg-Lock Haven-Mansfield and California-Clarion-Edinboro.

As PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein has outlined, the goal is for the combined universities to share a single administration, a combined management enrollment strategy, faculty and staff and offer common academic programs.

The three schools also would operate under a single annual budget.

It does not mean, he has said, that the three schools will share a single campus.

The physical footprint of the combined university, its name and other major details have not been decided.

PASSHE expects to present a detailed implementation plan to its Board of Governors in April.

The plan then would be presented for public comment.

The combined university tentatively would accept its first students in August 2022.

Combining the universities not only will cut costs but also is an opportunity to create new academic programs, including job training programs, and reach new students, including adult students, Greenstein said.

“The opportunity to build new is so powerful,” Greenstein said. “We need to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and look forward.”

Three hundred faculty members statewide – including approximately 47 faculty lines over a two-year period at Lock Haven – could lose their jobs as state-owned universities return to 2010 student-faculty ratios, as mandated by PASSHE, said Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties.

“Three hundred or more faculty members will lose their careers and lose their health care in the middle of a pandemic,” Martin said.

That amid Lock Haven University, under President Dr. Robert Pignatello, seeing an enrollment increase this fall for the first time in a while.

Greenstein believes the advantages of integration are opportunity and affordability.

“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 PASSHE 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 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 Cindy Shapira, who chairs the trustee board. “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, he said.

“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.”

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education oversees 14 four-year public universities educating more than 93,000 students. The State System offers more than 2,300 degrees and certificates in more than 530 academic areas. The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities of Pennsylvania.

Combining universities will be difficult, Greenstein acknowledged.

“This will be the hardest thing any one of us has ever tried to do,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here, and it’s also incredibly emotional because of (each university’s) history and traditions.”

Meanwhile, freshman enrollment has dropped more than 16 percent from last year at American colleges and universities — and by nearly a quarter at community colleges — as the threat of the coronavirus has disrupted the nation’s higher education system, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported Thursday.

A month into the fall semester, overall undergraduate enrollment is running 4 percent below last year’s levels, as the pandemic has forced classes online and plunged the national economy into turmoil, the report found. Even an upward trend in graduate enrollment has been dampened since last month’s survey, slipping to 2.7 percent. The drop in enrollment is just the latest turmoil affecting America’s institutions of higher education. Facing an uncertain autumn, some schools opted to hold most or all classes online, while others opted for in-person instruction, installing a host of measures to try to contain the virus, with mixed success.

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