Thursday, February 13, 2020

Farther, faster

This month we are asking the PA General Assembly to choose―to choose whether or not all Pennsylvanians will have access to affordable career-relevant college education that is critical to the economic health and well-being of this Commonwealth.

The ask is supported with detailed analysis of the contributions that State System universities make today to this Commonwealth, to its employers, and most important of all, to our students. The contributions―revealed in our first ever State System appropriations request and accountability report and dashboard―are strong, and there is so much promise going forward. But our strength, our potential, is also threatened by years of neglect on the part of the Commonwealth, which for too long has chosen to underfund public higher education.

But we too, are party to that neglect―not owing to incompetence or negligence or mal-intent. On the contrary, I am every day impressed by the quality, talent, commitment and good intent of our faculty and staff. Still, for whatever reason, we have been slow to evolve in ways that enable us to meet the dramatically changing needs of our students, their employers, our communities and the state. And we have been slow to address the practical financial challenges that result from long-running structural changes in the demographic and political economy of Pennsylvania higher education.

So we too must choose, and as with the General Assembly, we must choose now. Delay is not an option. Our failure to work together with one another in charting our own path will only result in a future that none of us wants – that none of us would choose.

Some examples of the choices we must make are presented here―enumerated so you can leap to any that capture your attention.
  1. Financial sustainability 
  2. Investing in community college transfer students’ success
  3. Online undergraduate education
  4. Adult education

1. Financial sustainability

Just yesterday, I circulated a memorandum to the presidents instructing the adoption of several immediate actions that will enable us to align our costs with our current and anticipated enrollment, thereby ensuring that we:

  • reduce anticipated debt-levels that, if left unattended, will impact our ability to serve our students;
  • ensure that unrestricted net assets are used to invest in strategic and growth opportunities rather than to balance annual operating budgets;
  • minimize university reliance on furloughs and retrenchment as a means of achieving financial sustainability; and ultimately
  • expand educational opportunities so we continue to meet the rapidly changing needs of our students, their employers, and our communities.

At 30,000 feet, the problem those actions seek to address is not a complicated one. Our student FTE (enrollments) are down by 20% since 2010 and our staff and faculty FTE are down by only 7%. Not a good pattern if it persists for too long in an industry where 75% of all operating costs are tied up in salary and benefits. This pattern became unsustainable years ago, but until now we have not had the courage to address it.

Additionally, we know we can’t credibly ask the General Assembly to subsidize cost imbalances that we are unable or unwilling to address. Nor can we continue to heap the burden of those imbalances onto our students in the form of routine increases in the price of tuition, fees, room and board. Our students are drawn disproportionately from low- and middle-income families. They should be. That’s what public higher education is all about. But enrollment trends tell us what we already know―our low- and middle-income students can’t afford annual increases in net average price of attendance (tuition, fees, room, and board) that travel in multiples of the rate of inflation.

So we choose to act. To align our expenditures with current and anticipated enrollment levels. A lot of my time, personally, is spent here because the opportunity to realize any of our hopes and dreams for the future requires that we navigate through this thorny thicket. It represents our greatest and most immediate challenge. It forces us to:
  • shift our thinking and operations fundamentally;
  • embrace changes in the design and delivery of our educational programming and the student supports that are associated with it;
  • engage a 14-university approach to sustaining low-enrolled universities that are vital to the health and well-being of the Commonwealth, but are challenged at today’s enrollments to offer the breadth of educational programs their students and communities need.
System Redesign and its sharing system vision were designed for specific reasons. They are below.

Realizing the vision for the good of the Commonwealth? That’s a choice.

2. Investing in community college transfer students’ success

I’ve heard a great deal in recent weeks about the Pennsylvania community colleges’ transfer agreement with Southern New Hampshire University.

It’s more noise than signal: sycophantic fawning over disruption (apparently an end itself); further prognostications from higher education death watchers (an emerging cottage industry); countless offers of help and support. But very few facts and no critical analysis. Call me old fashioned, but those things matter to me. And they should matter to us.

The number of community college students who transfer to a PA State System university tracks more or less with community college enrolments. Both are down over 13% since 2013. State System university transfers are down a tad more―around 16%―as a result of a strong economy that is drawing community college graduates into the job market rather than back into the classroom. But the pattern is not uniform. Several State System universities are actually enrolling a higher proportion of transfer students. I’ll return to those in a moment.

The State System has robust transfer articulation agreements in place with community colleges and a System policy that requires universities to adhere to them. As a result, State System universities accept 93% of the credits presented by community college transfer students―that’s a lot. Credits that aren’t accepted are for courses that don’t exist in any way, shape, or form at the host university or for which the transfer student received an unacceptably low grade. That sort of thing doesn’t matter at every university, but it does for ours and it should. Unless you’re a degree mill, quality matters. It should.

Transfer students are good students who are well prepared academically. They graduate at a slightly higher rate than students who begin as freshmen at a State System university.

Could we do more? Yes.

We could (and we should) work even more closely with our community college partners to facilitate students’ progress along the transfer pathways we have already established for them and ensure junior standing for those who have earned an AA or an AS degree in an aligned program, including but not limited to, the statewide 30-credit framework and P2P (Program to Program) agreements.

We could (and we should) be willing to waive on-campus residency requirements when they place obstacles in the path of a transfer student. Yes, there’s a cost. Residential students engage more in the life of the university and have higher retention and graduation rates. But the net price of attendance for a residential student is higher than for a non-residential student, an insurmountable obstacle for many.

We could (and we should) work more closely with our community college colleagues not only to ensure that transfer articulation agreements are robustly maintained, but also that intending transfer students receive the financial aid and academic and other advising supports they need all along the way from college to university.

We could (and we should) do more to act like we care about transfer students (we do care); to make them feel wanted (they are wanted); to help them engage in our communities and ease their progress along a journey that is a difficult one for many.

How do we know what we could (and should) do? Because there’s already a transfer playbook that has been built upon evidence and case study. And because we have numerous examples of what “great” looks like, including at universities in our System―universities that, by the way, implement aspects of the playbook and are enrolling an ever-growing share of community college transfer students.

So… what to do? Well, that’s another choice. Me? I’m for addressing the obvious unmet of these students. Now. You know. Like #PAPreferred.

3. Online undergraduate education

How many Pennsylvanians do you think enroll each year in an online undergraduate program offered by an out-of-state university? Nearly 43,000. Closing in on half of our enrollments. That’s 43,000 Pennsylvanians choosing a big box retail-style education provider rather than a Pennsylvania institution.

My use of “big box,” by the way, isn’t intended as a slight. Big box retail plays an important role in every sector. I get my bike parts almost exclusively from one big box retailer in the consumer space.

And I am absolutely enamored of a rack of lamb available exclusively from another. As with consumer sales, there are a few big box retail-style education providers that have the largest online market share in terms of their enrollments: In alphabetical order, they are Arizona State, Liberty University, Southern New Hampshire University, the University of Phoenix, and Western Governor’s University. Their successes are illuminating, and we can (and we should) learn from them.

We learn that a large and growing number of Pennsylvania undergraduates want an affordable online option. Oh. Did I fail to mention that our on-ground and online tuition is equal to or lower than nearly all the out-of-state providers?

We learn that Pennsylvanians who enroll in online undergraduate education disproportionately enroll in business, nursing, and education. Hmm. Sound familiar? It should. Business, healthcare, and education (along with STEM) are our highest-enrolled programs, accounting for nearly half our students.

Another helpful factoid. Most online students prefer to enroll in programs offered by universities within 100 miles of their home. This makes sense for a number of reasons, including the connectivity to workforce opportunities that are inevitably more available from a community-based institution.

So how many undergraduate programs do we offer fully online in the State System? A bunch. But they are under-leveraged, and except for a handful of programs in business and nursing, not as aligned as they could be to student demand.

Another choice.

4. Adult education

The size of Pennsylvania’s high school-leaving population declined 4.5% between 2012 and 2018. After a period of modest growth, it will go over a cliff in 2025, projected to lose 9% over ten years. In the meantime, there is a rising need for more adult education―not necessarily for degree granting education (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees)―although there is need for that too―but for various non-degree credentials in areas of business, healthcare, STEM, and education in which we have real strength. In today’s job market, people need constantly to upskill and re-skill in these areas.

How many non-degree, working-adult-oriented credentialing programs do we offer? Honestly, I can’t tell you. We don’t bother to count them all that well at the System level.

Those days are over. From today forward, we count them.

Growing them? Well. That is yet another choice.

Change is hard.

I understand that.

I understand, too, why change is slow not just in Pennsylvania but in US public higher education generally.

Look, for years―even decades―students showed up every fall and filled our course sections. Public appropriations materialized every summer from the state, and even as per-student public funding declined, the impacts were mitigated initially by enrollment growth (through 2010/11), then through basic recession management techniques. Sure, there were hard times, but we lived on the strategy of hope―hope that next year would bring a bumper crop of student enrollments; a richer state budget.

Operating for decades in these modes bred a sense of entitlement, even hubris. Frankly, it invited the big box retailer-style education providers into our state, offered them an opportunity to eat the lunch we had prepared and then left unattended on the table while we were out by the pool basking in the sun.

Party’s over.

So, together with the General Assembly, we must choose. This year.

You know I am an irrepressible optimist. We can and we will address these changes, and we will do it with creative intelligence, energy, and with empathy and compassion for one another.

We will look forward, not backward. Work together, not alone. Act from trust, not from enmity. In time and through our successes we will learn to let go of the hurt and animosity and blame that continue to show up in some places to negatively influence our culture.

How do I know? Because every day I see us doing exactly that. In ways small and large, but all of them profound, and to me, very moving.

I see it amongst faculty and staff who are brimming with creative ideas about how to share in educational programs, to better support our students, to engage more effectively with employers who want to work more effectively with us.

I see it in thoughtful, constructive, and collegial dialog with leadership of our faculty union, APSCUF, with whom we have a shared understanding of and a profound commitment to the “why” of our change journey. In my personal experience, those discussions touch strategically on the what and where, and tactically on the how.

I see it in our university leadership—in their thoughtful and analytically driven university strategies and budgets; their willingness to roll up sleeves and help one another; their openness to adopting collaborative approaches to individual institutional challenges; their energy for change leadership; their collegiality with one another; and their thought partnership with me.

I see it in the engagement of our Trustees and our Board of Governors—their passion for our purpose, and their stewardship of our universities, our System, their communities. In looking forward to testifying in front of the Appropriations Committees of the General Assembly, I am struck by the nature and extent of our partnership with the Commonwealth.

The State System universities play a critical role as an engine of economic development and social mobility in this state. But to realize the full extent of our promise to Pennsylvania, the General Assembly and the State System must choose—together, in partnership.

The General Assembly’s choice has to do with investment of public funds, ours with fundamental transformation of our education and business models.

Neither choice can be made alone, without the other.

Hold hands. Count to three. And jump together into the future―the future that the citizens of this Commonwealth demand and deserve.


  1. Dan,
    With respect to # 3. Online undergraduate education and # 4. Adult education above. I specifically co-authored the recently published text:
    Emotify!: The Power of the Human Element in Game-Based Learning, Serious Games and Experiential Education
    in order to also address the need to build more experiential education into the mix for learners. This instructional approach, proven by decades of research and praxis, provides much greater knowledge retention amongst graduates than lecture method and increases the applicability of an academic education with the challenge of directly applying education in the workplace.

  2. Some facts and figures, using Bloomsburg as an example:

    From Bloomsburg's institutional research page, publicly available, data from 2017, the most recent available:

    Employees classified as 'non-represented', which would in all likelihood be management since all other employees are represented by unions: 99

    From Chronicle of Higher Education salary database:

    Difference between average management salary at Bloomsburg and other comparable level institutions (large masters' level): $34000 HIGHER at Bloomsburg. Management salaries at EVERY PASSHE school with data available on the Chronicle database are higher than those at comparable level institutions.

    A little math: $34000 x 99 (lets round up to 100 to make it easier):

    $3,400,000 in additional salary paid to Bloomsburg management relative to comparable large masters' level institutions

    What would the total be for all 14 PASSHE schools? How much could be saved by simply paying managers the average salary at comparable institutions? Just asking.

  3. The "staff" listing at the PaSSHE office has 133 names, all with professional titles (no clerks or janitors ...). It also does not include "senior policy executives, like Chancellor Dan. If there are 7 of them, that comes to 140, a nice round guess. Let's say the cost of employing each is $300k, a low-end guess given the cost of salaries, benefits, and the cost of employing the clerks, janitors, computer fixers and the like that serve them. The gross is $42 million.
    Now ask how all this helps us teach or the students learn.

  4. Gentlemen (Roger & Unknown), are you suggesting that he who lives in a glass house clean it as well as asking the 14 presidents to clean theirs? I agree, so I hope the Chancellor is including his home office in the call he announced in his Feb. 13 letter to the 14 presidents. To date,I'm very supportive of the Chancellor's call to reform the system. He has "cures" that will upset many,but let's hope that faculty and admins as well as the students embrace the necessary changes. The experiential learning Michael spoke of in his post is just one example of ways to achieve efficiency while also improving educational outcome. Many boats will be rocked, but everyone must stay onboard.

  5. I would just like to add that you give the figures for decline of student enrollment and for decline of professors, but you don't give the figures for decline or rise of administration and support staff. Professors are now doing the work of secretaries, the Registration Office, and, in some advising, the Bursar's office. It would obviously be more cost-effective to have sufficient staff so that faculty could concentrate on teaching, research, and service, but the system seems to think that we have infinite hours in the day so they can just load more on our plates. Please give us the % decline/rise of administration, at least, so we can see how the pain is shared.


  6. It was with great bemusement that I read the recent policy and accompanying remarks. Once again the issue of irresponsible administration spending coupled with a glaring lack of oversight of said spending at the departmental level goes ignored. This is how I am able to work in a department that over the last three years has seen its staff cut by a third with an accompanying twofold increase in the number of managers, a department where a 14,000 dollar trailer was purchased and never used once, where expensive pesticides are applied in unseen and unused areas, where the work you do is assigned and your performance evaluated based on the bosses personal opinion of you,and where simple work easily done in-house is outsourced at great expense. This department is at a university that spent five million dollars on a new synthetic field that is used by five percent of the student body (at best), that just purchased a recently vacated residential home and is demolishing it, where the company who provides security is owned by a member of the council of trustees, and where any complaints we raise are ignored by the very people who should be looking out for the well-being of this university and it's employees. As an alumnus turned employee this is doubly vexing and I see no solution arising from an "Executive Leadership Board" of entrenched insiders who will maintain the status quo and not seek opinions of the "ground-level" employees. Of course to paraphrase Locke, we know that it is not wisdom but authority that makes the budget decisions here.

  7. Does anyone know what Dan means by "We could (and we should) be willing to waive on-campus residency requirements when they place obstacles in the path of a transfer student."? Do any of the 14 require students to live in dorms? The usual academic meaning of a "residency requirement" is that a certain number of credits must be taken at an institution to qualify for a degree from that institution. This is to prevent students from carrying a bunch of disparate transcripts in and demanding a degree with our name on it. At West Chester students must take 30 of their last 45 credits at WCU. It would be a mistake to abandon some sort of residency requirement.
    Dan, can you explain this is about?

  8. 1) You are correct that online education is an area where our universities and the system can be competitive, but only if we ensure that the quality of DE courses match those of competing institutions. We should not shy away from requiring extensive training and quality assessments of a LMS course structure prior to allowing a course to be taught online. Many other systems and institutions mandate high quality requirements, with oversight, for DE courses.
    2) When and how will cross-system student registration (i.e. a student at university "A" taking three courses at their home institution while registering for a course at university "B", likely online) be functional?
    3) Something not mentioned in the Senate Appropriations Committee hearings was the importance of soft skills. The vast majority of employers (including tech companies) need people who can write, analyze, communicate, work in teams, be creative, adapt to changing requirements and environments, and understand human behavior. All of these are crucial. These and associated skills are acquired in the social sciences and humanities. Ask Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Cuban, Lloyd Blankfein, Susan Wojcicki, Steve Jobs, or Stewart Butterfield, all in tech or finance, and all with social science and/or humanities degrees. History, political science, and economics were all very well represented majors among the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2017. Of course we need technicians, engineers, chemists, nurses, physicists etc, but ask any CEO of a service company (e.g. social media companies, finance, state and local government etc) and they will tell you they need people with the skill-sets that social science majors possess. People trained and specialized in one narrow task is at much greater risk of replacement, automation, and/or redundancy. The bottom line is that our legislators tend to believe that we should train a workforce for today’s labor market. Well, many jobs in existence today were not even thought of 20 years ago. Can any legislator tell us which jobs will dominate and be in demand in 2040 (aside from eldercare, since we are ageing and not having enough kids)? The only thing certain is that there will be plenty of service oriented jobs that do not yet exist, and they will all require dealing with humans.

    1. DeJe could not be more correct in the observations indicated in #1 and #2. There is a tremendous need for training of faculty in both how to design and how to teach online. I shed tears over the number of poorly designed courses that exist. I have personally experienced in fully online courses that I have taken where I felt isolated and left out. There was little to no feedback, direction, community, or decent student to student or instructor to student interaction. Instructors need to have proper training and work closely with instructional designers.

      One other element I have seen nothing about, or can I find a reference to anywhere on the PASSHE web site, is the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). Several of the PASSHE universities are making inroads into OER. They are helping to reduce the cost of textbooks. It can also create system-wide collaboration among faculty and give faculty full control over the materials used.

      In the study, “Open educational resources (OER) in higher education courses in aquaculture and fisheries: opportunities, barriers, and future perspectives,” one of their student responses indicated students would be 71% more likely to attend educational institutions who offer OER. Their results suggest that funding OER projects for quality OER creation can be beneficial.

      OER is not a turnkey solution; however, if done effectively, it can be a useful tool in making PASSHE competitive in today’s marketplace.

      Pounds, A., & Bostock, J. (2019). Open educational resources (OER) in higher education courses in aquaculture and fisheries: opportunities, barriers, and future perspectives. Aquaculture International, 27(3), 695–710.

  9. Several things:

    1. I find it interesting that all of the figures for student enrollment contrast PEAK enrollment with current enrollment. That's like me having one good year at work when I have lots of overtime, then going back to my normal income level from before the peak. Take a longer term perspective; look back at student enrollment from the 1980's and early 1990's. Total student enrollment today is still, I believe, higher than it was then.

    2. The decline in TOTAL enrollment is driven primarily by Undergraduate enrollment. Graduate enrollment, though down, does not show nearly as much of a drop. Graduate courses cost more than undergraduate courses, so, to what extent are the financial problems in the system associated with the increase in expensive graduate classes? Yes, it is true that tuition for grad courses is more than that for undergrad courses, but does that increase in tuition offset the increased cost to offer those courses? I don't know, just asking.

    3. The single largest drop, numerically, is in Full Time Equivalent students in Education courses. I mention this because some years ago some PASSHE schools signed agreements with local community colleges where students could take the equivalent of two years of education courses and transfer them to the PASSHE school. I'm shocked that enrollment in PASSHE education courses dropped (insert sarcasm emoji here). Yes, having students take community college courses saves them money, which is a noble goal, and one that I as a person with two students in college currently wholeheartedly support. But talk about shooting yourself in the foot!! What did anyone think would happen?

  10. Anyone interested in getting a better understanding of just what is going on in the PASSHE system needs to take a look at the yearly Snyder reports, available on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website, public information. The reports list such things as total salary paid to faculty in each institution each year, categorized by department (technically by what's called a CIP code). One of the more interesting sets of data points separate faculty salary into 'instructional' and 'non-instructional'. I'm not sure what 'non-instructional' means, although some reports do indicate that athletic trainers, librarians, and student mental health counseling centers, among others, are counted as faculty but do not teach any classes. In any case, to provide just one example, in Summer 2017 Bloomsburg paid out $2,200,000 in faculty salary for instruction and $1,200,000 in non-instructional salary. Call me naïve, but I'd always assumed that the purpose of a university, at least those in PASSHE, was to teach students. What does all of that 'non-instructional' money go toward?

  11. In his first reply above, Roger hit the nail on the head. Today’s enemies of higher education are the people running it. They pay themselves handsomely while impoverishing and marginalizing their own teachers. "Career-relevant" education for students consists neither of preparation for life, nor of respect for the dignity of the human mind, but rather of training for wage slavery. (Since when did "their employers" become a category of person to whom we are obliged?) His friendly-phony-folksy prose style is as thin as tissue paper: "Me? I’m for addressing the obvious unmet (sic) of these students. Now. You know. Like #PAPreferred"; "Those days are over. From today forward, we count them. Growing them? Well. That is yet another choice. Change is hard. I understand that." I feel better already. Does the chancellor "understand" the unmet needs of students who have never had a chance to befriend their own minds? Do the Freddie Grays of Pennsylvania get a chance for a liberal education in our systems of public education? "Delay is not an option." Why not? For decades, delay in the arrival of common decency has been the grinding necessity for adjuncts subsidizing the salaries of chancellors, presidents, department heads, minions. These lowly souls might have liked a chance to become "enamored of" the toothsome "rack of lamb" the chancellor so fancies; they would be especially grateful for the chance to send their own kids to college without extreme financial uncertainty, dread, or pain. But it is not Les Invisibles with whom the chancellor proposes to "Hold hands. Count to three. And jump together into the future." They, of course, would be left, as they have been for decades, to drown in debt and despair – to drop dead in their 80's on the front lawns of homes they can no longer afford to heat, to sleep (and turn tricks) in cars, to make suicide a retirement plan, to depend on public benefits to feed their families and keep the wolf from the door, to go bankrupt. Tasty lambs: adjuncts in the wolfish world of higher education. But the chancellor has made clear elsewhere that he would like to dispense with (“curtail”) so inconvenient a set of persons and all the unsavory problems arising from their presence, and, presto, turn the regular faculty into semi-adjuncts, flying around from school to school, but never to suffer the indignity of so unfortunate a title. That way we avoid the unpleasantness of "retrenchment." If we want education for humanity, chancellors like Dan Greenstein are “not an option.”
    The chancellor speaks in his final words of “the future that the citizens of this Commonwealth demand and deserve.” As demagogues do, he arrogates to himself the knowledge of what the people want, in order that he might use this knowledge. Yet he may be right that something like it, in the current climate of panic, fear, dislocation, and anxiety, is what they “demand.” A slim majority did vote three years ago for the most vicious man ever to hold the highest office in the land. And what an open field this dreadful fact opens up for a handsomely paid institutional neoliberal! In a profoundly uncharitable, serves-them-right, let’s-all-go-down-together sort of way, if the people are foolish enough to demand something like this, then the smug might say they do in fact “deserve” it. But if they demand whatever the chancellor’s corporate-managerial hokum might require, they have come to do so in part because a robust, humane, liberal-arts alternative is scarcely presented to them as the most genuine promise for full human freedom and personal prosperity -- and the likeliest preserver of democratic institutions for themselves and their children. Even in the age and republic of fear that we have made for ourselves, are we really craven and benighted enough to allow the chancellor to make a fait accomplit out of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If so, maybe we deserve the leap into the abyss the chancellor demands.

  12. According to a story on Pennlive, PASSHE schools will refund approximately 100 million dollars to students this semester. This is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do (why should students pay fees for rec centers, health centers, or other things they wont be able to use, or room and board charges for half a semester they won't be on campus?) However, it raises serious questions about the financial sustainability of the PASSHE system when budgets are already stretched tight. Certainly the prime concern right now is the health and safety of the students, faculty, and staff in the PASSHE system, but I am wondering what the Chancellor and the Board of Governors are planning to do regarding the long term future of the system.