Chancellor talks only positives of integration at LHU
LOCK HAVEN — Emphasizing the positives for students, Dr. Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the state’s system of higher education, avoided discussing the negative impact of the planned integration of PASSHE universities on employees at the institutions.
Greenstein’s remarks before a group of high school counselors at Lock Haven University Friday were directed at the reasons for the integration and how it will enable students to grasp post-secondary education, which is suffering from a decrease in the number of students and an increase in costs.
“The number of high school students graduating from high school is shrinking, by a lot. We’re going to experience a little bit of an uptick over the next few years and then we’re going over a cliff,” Greenstein said.
“Our traditional market for high education, schools like ours, 90 percent, come straight from high schools,” he noted.
The cost of higher education also motivated the move to integrate the universities, although Greenstein asserted that the state universities are still the most affordable option in the state.
“But even as the most affordable option, we’re asking a key commitment from families, which can be significant — up to 30 to 40 percent of a middle income families household income towards a student’s participation at any college. That’s huge,” he said.
Student tuition fees account for 71 percent of the expenditures at the universities, according to studies that have been done.
“To honor those kids and their families and their hard-earned dollars, we are making sure that every single penny of that 71 percent is spent in a way that maximizes their potential to succeed. We recognize how much of a burden we as a society are placing on people who are basically trying to grab the brass ring and make sure they can have a healthy sustaining life for themselves. That’s what system redesign is all about,” Greenstein said.
“Our enrollments are down… there are fewer people to come. Costs are growing,” Greenstein said. When that happens, he asserted, there is no choice but to begin to contract the breadth of course offerings.
“Students want breadth. They want to have a lot of choice for their majors and they should. Just as important, communities need them to have choice” he said.
“Because we’re public. Because we owe ourselves to the state and to the students, the question is how do we provide people with the breadth of program choices they need and the answer lies in integration,” Greenstein said.
The three state universities involved in the northeastern part of the state are Lock Haven, Bloomsburg and Mansfield. Because of the contributing factors of cost and lower enrollment, the three alone would not be able to offer students that breadth of courses.
“Lock Haven … if it were to operate based on its current enrollment, it could manage about 30 to 35 programs. In an integrated entity, they could manage a hundred. Students have more choice,” he said.
One issue opponents of integration have is that the identity of the universities being integrated will be lost.
“In an integrated university, everything is still there. Clubs, activities and sports teams, face-to-face instruction, engagement with counselors and advisers — all the things that happen in a residential experience still happen. The difference is you have access to 3x number of programs and majors,” he stated.
With integration, some interactions will be offered online. Greenstein cited a poll taken of students and their parents which revealed that 90 percent said they would support a quarter of their courses online if it meant there was a greater choice. Many students are already engaged in online instruction.
“We’re actually not asking anyone to make trade-ups that they’re not already making, but we’re giving them opportunities to have greater program breadth, greater access to courses, quicker times to degrees,” Greenstein said.
“An integrated institution preserves all the great advantages of a residential university. All of them. None go away,” he added.