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Community needs to form task force to have influence in LHU ‘integration’

The Clinton County community must rise up to engage and put pressure on the chancellor and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education as they look to essentially merge Lock Haven, Mansfield and Bloomsburg Universities.

This is so much more important ever since PASSHE initially announced an “integration” plan between just Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities.

Frankly, with this latest edict late last week to add the much-larger Bloomsburg to the mix, we are alarmed … and the community should be very alarmed, too. Is LHU to become a satellite campus of Bloomsburg?

We respectfully suggest the Clinton County Economic Partnership take the lead with the City of Lock Haven, county and others to form a task force — without delay — to make the community’s voice be heard and prevent PASSHE from making decisions in a vacuum. We need skin in this game.

Political pressure from state officials representing our county would help greatly and is sorely needed.

The situation is dire, and yes there are the realities of lower enrollment and fewer students on campus due to COVID-19, resulting in less revenue.

Indeed, COVID-19 has exacerbated all of the challenges LHU and its 13 sister universities within PASSHE face.

But this is just when we must take the fight to preserve this community asset to a whole new level.

LHU has announced it will eliminate about 100 jobs starting next year.

Furthermore, the university, as PASSHE’s direction, is studying the elimination of numerous programs such as alternative education, foreign languages, physics, political science, geology, math, music, sociology, athletic training, history, art and more.

All of this, we believe, puts the sustainability of LHU at risk.

The following is from a report made at last week’s Lock Haven University board of trustees’ meeting: “In an effort to staunch the financial losses incurred by PASSHE, the (chancellor) has set metrics as guidelines by which institutions must return to sustainability using 2010-2011 as the benchmark. Chief among these metrics is the requirement for LHU to raise its student to faculty ratio to 19.2 (from the current 14). Secondary to this ratio are the culling of academic programs to a number consistent with current enrollment and raising of class sizes.

“For LHU, meeting these metrics requires the loss of 47 faculty FTE (full-time equivalent), placing 7 undergraduate programs in moratorium, and raising our average class size to 32. These changes will result in both a significant departure from practice and culture but also a marked upheaval of the academic enterprise. They are, nonetheless, both mandated … and necessary to avoid the continual fiscal crisis in which LHU is currently embroiled.”

LHU President Dr. Robert Pignatello has done a fabulous job managing the school’s finances and overall operations amid the most difficult era in its 150 years of existence. Why isn’t he being given a chance to develop a long-term sustainability plan?

Lock Haven University is a proud institution and has been since its founding in 1870, with more than 32,000 alumni across the United States and beyond.

The college’s impact on this small, rural area — economically and culturally — is immeasurable.

In recent years, the college has upped investment to provide education and certification for critical professions, from health-care (physician assistants and nurses), to teachers, biologists, criminal justice and law enforcement, business, outdoor recreation-wellness and so much more.

NOW is the time for area officials, LHU stakeholders and community residents to stand up and be heard. To put as much political and community pressure on PASSHE as can be mustered.

One of the most important roles of LHU is to educate and empower first-generation students.

We cannot give up on that … ever.

Education is fundamental to creating prosperity and opportunity. It strengthens our democracy. It enriches our civic life, and serves as a pathway to economic success.

Lock Haven University, the community and all of its stakeholders must be able to chart a course to revival and success. Too much is at stake.

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