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LHU, Mansfield alliance would bring pain, but also gain

While we are very sad to see the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education launch a study into essentially unifying Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities under one budget, one president, one faculty and a combined array of programs of study, it is not surprising.

Not in the current environment brought on by the pandemic.

And surely, with high school graduation rates to again slump in coming years, a refocus was necessary anyway amid constricted funding after a decade of declining student population pretty much across all 14 state-run universities.

If ultimately the schools are combined, there will be pain.

But there also will be gain.

An integration of these two fine institutions offers an opportunity for a restart — a fresh look at what degree programs are working and are needed, and what new programs beyond the traditional 4 or even 2 year degrees can be established.

A fresh look at building needs.

A fresh look at online degree offerings to provide flexibility.

For sure, nothing replaces one-on-one classroom instruction and we fully support that approach first and foremost.

As LHU President Dr. Robert Pignatello said in an op-ed piece on Page A1 in Friday’s Express, the integrations will initially involve a financial review of both institutions.

As the planning process moves forward, he said, it will be “highly consultative, seeking feedback from all stakeholders across each university. Numerous reviews and approvals will also take place along the way. This will be a deliberate process and you will be invited to participate. The planning phase is expected to take about a year with new unified operational models in place for fall 2022.”

He emphasized that there “is no predetermined outcome” and that the PASSHE board of governors will assess the ability of paired institutions to operate under a unified leadership team reporting through the chancellor.

And this is worth repeating, as also expressed by Dr. Pignatello: “It would also assess the ability to have a single faculty and staff, a single academic program array, a unified enrollment strategy, and a single budget, all while honoring the local identity of the original institutions. Again, this is the beginning of a multi-step, broadly consultative process. There will likely be several different models explored and the Board’s action permits the exploration of other models and combinations of institutions as part of the integrations approach.”

We are hopeful PASSHE will keep this process transparent — so far as we’re concerned it has an ethical and legal responsibility to do so since taxpayer dollars are at stake.

We are also hopeful that unionized faculty and support staff are flexible.

If this alliance takes place and is to be successful, all parties will have to compromise.

A fresh look at labor contracts really needs to be a part of creating a new, unified institution.

The newly integrated university must have the best and the brightest teaching our students. That must be one of the essentials if this moves beyond study.

For alumni, these two schools can surely still be a home away from home, maintaining their individual identities and worthy of continued support.

And at the same time the experts are looking at dollars they MUST also look at needs.

Needs as in what degree and credential programs are required in the “new normal.”

Needs as in what skills do employers seek.

Needs as in how can we better inspire entrepreneurship?

Both schools have some strong programs.

We want to mention Lock Haven’s nursing, physician assistant and health science degrees as “essential” as our nation and world adapt to this awful pandemic.

In the end, we all can surely agree the biggest result must be more and greater, affordable opportunity for our young people.

We must reshape our future.

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