Monday, February 18, 2019

Going the distance

You may know I’m an avid cyclist. In warmer weather, I may even be maniacal about it.

Few things are quite as invigorating, liberating, even therapeutic as a 50- or 60-mile bike ride along the winding country roads of Central PA. While it can be exhausting, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I return home.

Five months—and many bike rides—into my job as chancellor, I am more passionate than ever about being here and about the future of public higher education in Pennsylvania. As you may know, System Redesign Phase 2 is well underway as we transform the State System to serve our students and the Commonwealth far into the future. In support of that effort, Gov. Wolf reaffirmed his commitment to our universities during his recent budget address—proposing a $7 million increase for the State System. Given the economic challenges Pennsylvania continues to face, we are grateful that the Governor continues to see our state-owned universities as one of his priorities.

This time of year, the State System is required to provide to the General Assembly our own appropriations request. This process affords an opportunity to take a critical look at ourselves, to think together with legislators about our future, and to analytically make the case for public investment in higher education. I have embraced that opportunity, much as I embraced the opportunity to visit our universities last fall. I am meeting with legislators, individually, in small groups, and—of course—with the House and Senate appropriations committees to lay out where we are and where we are going, all while listening to their concerns and their questions.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what I am learning.

I sense among our legislators a real and genuine commitment to public higher education and to the State System. Everyone I have spoken to wants to see us succeed. Everyone I have spoken to recognizes the unique role our 14 universities play in their communities and in providing affordable, high-quality, and career-relevant educational pathways. And—just as I experienced during my university visits—so many legislators I’ve met refer fondly to their own time at one of our universities or to the experiences of a parent, sibling, or child.

There is also real concern that the State System has spoken about—but has yet demonstrated progress on—four issues that are well known: 1) aligning our costs with our enrollments; 2) relieving the financial pressures on our students; 3) finding sustainable solutions to the financial and other challenges facing our low-enrolled universities; and 4) holding ourselves accountable—through our strategies, budgets, and performance—to measurable student success and university success goals.

Our work in service to the people of this Commonwealth is conducted in partnership with the state. To make real and lasting progress, we must work side-by-side. If done right, that will result in a stronger, more sustainable university system that can serve as a foundation of success for all Pennsylvanians. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the Commonwealth—our commitment to providing students with access to high-value, in-demand programs that prepare them to meet Pennsylvania’s employment needs, as well as prepare them for successful lives as contributing, responsible citizens.

In that partnership, right now, the ball is in our court. And, with it, we must not only demonstrate that we understand the challenges we face, but that we are willing—together—to make the tough trade-off decisions necessary to address them.

At the recent House Appropriations Committee hearing, Chairman Saylor summarized this when he said:
We all have great pride in the schools that we go to…[but] until PASSHE restores its integrity with the general assembly, I think there’ll continue to be struggles. It’s not that we don’t love our schools that we came from…but it really comes down to accountability.

Okay. Game on. Saddle up. Let’s ride.

I face this task of transforming our system—restoring the public trust—with the same intensity, drive, and determination as a century (100-mile) bike ride. Yes, this is going to be a tough, sometimes grueling ride. But the payoff—measured in terms of the students and the communities that we serve—is the opportunity to not only survive but to thrive as the great public system of this Commonwealth. That is worth riding for, long and hard. I’m ready to go the distance.

Who’s with me?


  1. Thanks, Chancellor Greenstein.

  2. Thank for your continued advocacy for our system. As talks surrounding the System Redesign continue, I am concerned about the continued process of adding duplicate programs among our sister schools.

    As an example, Millersville University currently has a thriving and robust MSN Family Nurse Practitioner program. This program is offered at both our MU campus and at the Dixon University Center. Recently, we have been informed that another PASSHE University has requested to offer the same program at the Dixon University Center. This would put our programs in direct competition for students. The MU program boasts an extremely low attrition rate, as well as national certification pass rates that surpass the national benchmarks.

    As another example, MU also has a thriving fully online RN to BSN program. Since its launch in Fall 2015, we have exceeded our admission benchmarks and on numerous occasions we have added additional student cohorts to address admission "backlogs." Last week, I was informed that another PASSHE school is also launching an online RN to BSN program. While I believe competition is healthy, I also recognize the resources that are expended on these programs -- resources that might be better spent by investing in new programs rather than duplication.

    I look forward to seeing our System move forward and I am happy to be a part of the process.

  3. We can thank Governor Wolfe for a $7 million increase in funding with a caveat. It does not keep pace with inflation.

    Accountability is a good principle, but specifics are in order. Our CBA has a transparent process for faculty. What is the process for management?

    How will adjunct faculty and online courses contribute to PASSHE cost control?

    I look forward to the ongoing dialogue.

    Dr. Michael D. Gambone
    Kutztown University

  4. Kelly,

    You make an interesting point. Mansfield University had a thriving, fully online RN to BSN program until 2015. We started our program in 2005. We can't go back, but I wonder if Mansfield's program would have been able to thrive in a shared program environment. We must go forward and support the needs of all of our institutions.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Greenstein, I appreciate your ideas.

    I'm a professor at West Chester U. From what I have read and experienced here in the last decade at West Chester, after having taught at three other public universities in the US, is that the humungous elephant in the room is the lack of state funding. PA is by no means a poor state, yet it fluctuates between #48 or #49 in receiving state funding! That is out of 50 states. We do not have a flagship R1 public university (which attracts large endowments and national/international investments and students) like most states do, especially on the eastern half of the country. We don't have one because we have not invested in one, the talent and research production (including with students) are already here. We need to advocate more for state funding.

    As for "4) holding ourselves accountable—through our strategies, budgets, and performance—to measurable student success and university success goals." I'm not sure to what level this is referring. At the Department and College level, we definitely already do this. We spend a significant amount of every week qualitatively, quantitively, informally, and formally assessing our work.

    Thanks again. I look forward to working with you.

  6. Thank you for the insightful post. I have three questions:

    1. When will PASSHE return to 2008 levels of funding in terms of both real dollars and purchasing power? The stock market is near record highs, why is the budget still so low?

    2. Is this really the best the "education" governor can do? The budget "increase" is a still a major net loss of purchasing power for PASSHE.

    3. How do we expect universities to succeed when we erode their financial support?

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  9. Maybe it's time to merge the SSHE with the PSU system. It's kind of asinine to have several state college systems (SSHE,PSU & State Aligned) who are going after the same state dollars. Also why not merge Cheyney University and West Chester university considering they're less than 20 minutes from each other and already share resources.

    Also why not centralize certain services such as facilities and security at the state level such as what the NY State University has done.

  10. There is a larger issue, and it is cultural. The first task is to eliminate all traces of Broganism, a malady that afflicted our system through successive visionless chancellors, culminating with the most recent failure, where administrators believe that they have all the answers, where collaboration among stakeholders is a waste of time, and where no decision maker ever admits to any failing, let alone to cleaning up the messes they cause.

    Before we can address 1-4 above, we must make a clean break with the past and establish a new paradigm where stakeholders are a critical part of decision-making.

    In financial matters, the rancid culture is front and center. Faculty have been purposefully and routinely excluded from decision-making, and there has been a stunning lack of transparency and accountability. There are always multiple versions of everything. This could all be addressed by having one set of books, available to all constituencies, and to do a 180 on being responsive to the legitimate concerns of stakeholders.

    One particular issue that needs to be approached is what Colleen Bradley exposed. I am unaware of any action on the system's part to address her charges, which were quite serious. Everything surrounding that is a result of inappropriate secrecy and what appears to be malfeasance.

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