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City Council opposes LHU integration

LOCK HAVEN — Lock Haven City Council would like the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to put the brakes on integrating Lock Haven University with Bloomsburg and Mansfield.

Council this week unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposed merger of the three institutions.

Councilman Bill Mincer offered the measure, saying PASSHE needs to do a more in-depth study of any merger’s impact on the students, community and economy.

His resolution came one day before PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein met virtually with LHU faculty and staff, and a few days before Greenstein’s scheduled testimony before the General Assembly.

PASSHE is facing an about $250 million deficit and faces significant challenges as enrollments have declined.

Those enrollments fell more drastically because of COVID-19 in 2020-21, with many students opting to take a hiatus from higher education. Dozens of staff and faculty groups have been meeting to develop an integration proposal that will be presented to the Board of Governors on April 23.

That will trigger a 60-day public comment period. The state system has seen a 21% decline in enrollment since 2010.

The steepest decline has been among students from low- and middle-income families, the exact demographic that LHU serves. Plus, private universities and colleges have begun to provide signifcant scholarships and aid to attract students, making competition among the 250 institutions that offer degrees in Pennsylvania to attract students all that more challenging.

Mincer’s resolution stated various concerns, noting the loss of 58 LHU faculty positions through 2022.

Councilman Doug Byerly said he believes the integration will help Bloomsburg and Mansfield, but insisted Lock Haven is “really being hammered” while having stabilized its enrollment and made other changes to improve its position.

Mayor Joel Long said the state system keeps “moving the goalposts” on the state schools after initially proposed only Lock Haven and Mansfield merge.

Council Vice President Steve Stevenson argued that the chancellor is “ramming it down our throats.”

Despite joining his colleagues and voting for Mincer’s resolution, Councilman Richard Morris said he felt it could be “premature” because the state system board will not vote on the integration plan until April 23. Morris did call the state process flawed. Others said they felt the propsosal is being rushed.

City manager Greg Wilson had tax revenue on his mind, saying if the school paid real estate taxes, the amount would be more than $500,000, but the university benefits greatly from services the city provides.

Mincer’s resolution reads as follows;

— Whereas, The State System of Higher Education has announced its intention to integrate, or combine, Lock Haven University, Bloomsburg University, and Mansfield University into a single accredited entity; and

— Whereas, The integration is described by the State System of Higher Education as a process of multi-year engagement that lasts only six months from October 2020 to April 2021; and

— Whereas, A complete and comprehensive integration plan that provides financial review and community impact, and shows that our community’s students will have expanded on-site opportunities has not been provided to City Council; and

— Whereas, The integration calls for at least 15 faculty positions to be eliminated in 2021 and an additional 43 in 2022, removing a quarter of the university’s instructors which has the result of reducing rather than expanding on-site student opportunities; and

— Whereas, Through sound fiscal management, Lock Haven University has more than $50 million in reserves that can used to sustain Lock Haven University while allowing additional time to plan for a university integration;

Now, Therefore, be it resolved that the City Council of Lock Haven does resolve to oppose the integration of the three institutions until a complete and comprehensive plan is presented to Council and the community that shows that the cost-saving measures will result in greater on-site opportunity for the students, staff, and faculty at Lock Haven University and the community they call home.

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