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Senate approves reforms to PA State System of Higher Education

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a set of broad reforms today to protect the future of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and ensure the system has the tools to achieve its mission for many years to come, according to Senators Scott Martin (R-13) and Robert M. “Tommy” Tomlinson (R-6).

Many PASSHE schools were facing considerable financial and enrollment pressures even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and these problems have been made worse by the temporary closing of all 14 system schools, including Lock Haven University, due to concerns about student health.

House Bill 2171 would assist PASSHE’s efforts to redesign its system in the wake of these challenges. The bill would give the PASSHE Board of Governors the power to create, expand, consolidate, transfer or affiliate member schools. The Chancellor of PASSHE would be required to conduct a thorough review of an institution and prepare a detailed implementation plan for any changes to system schools. This includes holding at least two public hearings, consulting with faculty and other stakeholders, opening a public comment period and reporting quarterly to the General Assembly.

The bill would also require shared services among all member universities when the system can show savings and efficiencies, unless member schools opt out by a two-thirds vote of the Council of Trustees.

Martin and Tomlinson have led PASSHE reform efforts in the Senate, including introducing Senate Bill 1172 and negotiating with stakeholders which resulted in the amendments to HB 2171. The Senators said the goal of the legislation is to promote the long-term viability of all schools in the system, protect access to an affordable education for Pennsylvania students, and ensure any changes to the system are completed with full transparency and accountability. This legislation was created with the continued help of the Chancellor, many University Presidents and staff of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, as well as various stakeholder groups and Senate Education Chairman Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R-16).

“The State System plays a critical role in helping students receive a quality education at an affordable price, and these schools have become indispensable parts of the communities where they are located,” said Martin, who is a Millersville University graduate and serves on the PASSHE Board of Governors. “PASSHE schools have shown a strong willingness to work toward transforming the system to meet the educational needs of students and fill gaps in the workforce. This bill clears the way to transform the PASSHE system to better meet the evolving needs of students and employers.”

“I loved my time at West Chester University and want all Pennsylvanian families to have the opportunity of a high quality, low cost education close to home. Our State System of Higher Education wants to meet the needs of future students now. Today, we passed legislation that will continue to make the state system schools great centers with strong academic programs for future students. I look forward to seeing how these schools continue to evolve and meet the needs of our students, families and communities,” said Tomlinson, a West Chester University alumnus who now serves as Chairman of the school’s Council of Trustees.

Any new plan would need to be approved by the PASSHE Board of Governors within three years. House Bill 2171 now returns for a concurrence vote before the House of Representatives.

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