This year, we will decide:
- Whether all Pennsylvanians—regardless of zip code, race, or wealth—will have an affordable pathway into and beyond the middle class in the 21st century economy.
- Whether millions of adults will have the affordable public re-skilling and upskilling options they need to maintain their relevance and viability in an evolving labor market.
- Whether the State of the System Address for next year will focus on continuing with our System Redesign or whether that transformation will take an entirely different form.
This decision is not ours alone. It is also squarely in front of our strategic partners, who have an undeniable stake in our success, especially members of the General Assembly. Their constituents’ careers and the communities in their districts rely on affordable, relevant, public higher education.
We are ready for this moment. In less than two years, we have taken the difficult steps needed to transform and redesign this system so that it sustainably continues its historic mission of social mobility and economic development for all Pennsylvanians. We are confronting challenges that have grown to existential proportion, and we have made demonstrable progress in five foundational areas:
- Radical transparency – We have achieved that. We opened our books to our employees, the General Assembly, and to members of the public. We did this to show the price of education, the value it returns to our students, the challenges we face, the success we log, and how we allocate scarce resources with what effect.
- Real accountability – We have achieved that with those who pay our bills…the Commonwealth and our students. Last year, the Board of Governors required our 14 universities to balance their budgets while continuing to improve student affordability, progression, and success. This year, the Board will use evidence of progress towards those goals to guide decisions about student tuition, the allocation and use of state funds, and to anchor evaluations of executive performance.
- Freezing tuition – We did that. The Board of Governors passed a tuition freeze last summer for the first time in 21 years because it was the right thing to do for our students, who have shouldered the burden of rising costs.
- Aligning costs with our revenues – We’re achieving that by leveraging operating scale through a variety of shared services to achieve real, meaningful savings. We’ve also worked in partnership with our collective bargaining units to reach fair and responsible contracts.
- Address the challenges faced by our low-enrolled universities – We passed foundational policy requiring all universities to be financially sustainable and requiring plans of action to achieve that where necessary.
While we have delivered on our promises for 2019, let me now make a few for 2020:
Working together, this year we will show how students at one university can access courses and programs elsewhere in the System, allowing all students at all universities—irrespective of their size—to access courses in important traditional subjects like physics and modern languages, as well as in new high demand areas; for example, in geo- and environmental sciences, informatics, health care and education.
- Working together, this year we will execute budget plans that will ensure all of our universities are financially sustainable within five years. Why five years? Because we need to move at a pace that does not impact the ability of our current students to complete their degrees and achieve their goals.
- Working together, this year we will produce initial cost savings that result from our work on System Redesign–leveraging our tremendous operating scale.
- Working together, this year we will take our accountability and transparency to a whole new level by reporting on our progress toward meeting clearly identified student success and university success goals.
Our System Redesign is bold; it is transformational. We have delivered on the promises we made for 2019 and we will deliver again in 2020 on the promises made here. But the extent of our success? It is not ours alone to determine. It depends on the committed partnership of others.
Our foundations and donors will be critical because transformation of this kind requires investment in innovation. I am delighted to tell you that our State System Foundation is forging a path by establishing an innovation fund dedicated to implementing practices that will improve students’ success. Also, our partnerships with employers, schools, and community colleges will be critical to building pathways that are relevant for lifelong learning.
Most critical of all, though, is our partnership with the state.
We have listened to and heard the concerns of our elected representatives about our cost, our value, our sustainability. We have demonstrated our seriousness of purpose in responding to them with real and demonstrably impactful actions, and with a detailed roadmap for fundamentally restructuring this system — one with milestones and deliverables to which we expect to be held accountable.
In return, we have requested the investment we need to begin delivering concretely on the promise of this System Redesign: a two percent increase in our yearly appropriation for 2020 and an initial $20 million installment on the $100 million that we will need over five years to become a sharing system that delivers for the people and employers of this state. Let me be clear: this request, this investment, is critical to the success of our efforts and the future of the State System.
The state of our system is fluid. We are at a turning point. This year—with our partners—we will decide the course of public higher education in this Commonwealth.