Thursday, July 16, 2020

Giving new meaning to sharing

Today, we recognize a pivotal moment in our State System’s history. It is a day filled with promise and hope for our students, our universities, and our Commonwealth.

From today, we turn our attention—through our ongoing System Redesign—to building an even brighter future.

From today, we see a path towards that future:

  • one in which every Pennsylvanian can depend on access to an affordable, quality higher education, and the social mobility and economic development that education provides;
  • one in which employers in all of Pennsylvania’s regions have access to highly qualified new employees who bring relevant competencies and skillsets, and to educational partners who can assist them in reskilling and upskilling existing employees;
  • one in which communities across all of Pennsylvania can confidently rely upon the economic, cultural, and other benefits that thriving campus communities support; and
  • one in which we continue to honor the legacy, identity, and mission of our wonderful historic universities through productive engagement with all of their constituencies—students, faculty, staff, trustees, legislators, alumni, and supporters. 

Today, using new tools authorized by the Commonwealth, the State System’s Board of Governors instructed me—as part of our System Redesign—to take the first step in a process that may result in bringing some of our existing universities together—integrating them—to leverage their combined strength and talent and educational programs, to build this brighter sustaining future.
We are looking initially at three university pairs: California and Clarion, Lock Haven and Mansfield, and Edinboro and Slippery Rock, because they show enormous potential sustainably to serve more students, expand educational opportunity for their regions, and leverage their universities’ proximity to one another.

I need to emphasize something here:  This is the beginning of a journey, not the end of one. The planning process we are embarked on will take at least a year to complete.  While it is premature to know where it will end, we are on this journey to determine our future, not to validate one that has already been decided.

Still, it is important at this early stage to speak specifically to constituencies of these six universities.

Students who are enrolled at these institutions today and those who are considering attending them in future – your prospects have never been brighter. Should these universities come together, you will be afforded even greater opportunity educationally because you will have access to a broader range of programs. And yes, of course, you will expect to find at the university campus you attend the usual range of student activities and the vigorous school spirit for which it is known.

  • Faculty and staff, we have been afforded an opportunity to shape our future in service to our students and the Commonwealth. In meeting this challenge, we will marshal our resources and our talent in wholly new ways so we may reconceive, rebuild, refresh and expand the opportunities we offer to all our students.
  • Employers, you will continue to find great partners in these institutions. If they should end up working together, they will become even more responsive to your ever-changing needs.
  • And for residents of the surrounding communities, countless alumni, and cherished supporters, we have an opportunity to ensure the continued vibrancy of institutions that we need and that we all hold so dear.

Yes, I will admit it that this level of innovation involves discomfort and hard work. It fundamentally challenges the status quo, involves our thinking in new and different ways about how to sustain our core historic mission—affordable, quality higher education for all Pennsylvanians. But sustain that mission we must—and we shall—for the future of our students and the future of this Commonwealth. In the meantime, we have important work to do, serving today’s students, in today’s university structures—continuing, even as we plan our future, to provide those students the exceptional, life-changing experiences that all our universities are so well and so deservedly known for.

***
Such institutional integrations can appear frightening or threatening. They needn’t be. They shouldn’t be. If we work together and keep our eyes on the goals specified above, we will build a brighter future.

Imagine what we can accomplish.

The economics of public higher education are challenging, but not complicated. Public universities offer the programs they can afford based on state funding and enrollment-driven revenues. As revenues decline, so does program breadth, which in turn places greater downward pressure on enrollments and thus on revenues. A vicious cycle—one that is difficult if not impossible to break out of.

Think what it would mean for students and communities served by one of our universities should they fall into that cycle. Would it mean that students who want to attend those universities may go elsewhere if they cannot find the programs they wish to pursue, or worse, simply forego college and its benefits altogether as many will? Does it mean that communities and employers who rely upon those universities’ graduates to fill essential professional, business, and civic roles should now look elsewhere to import the talent they need or simply go without, threatening to cause their own atrophy?

No. That does need to happen here. Here, we can imagine a different future for universities whose viability is at risk if they continue attempting to support themselves independently.

Here we can bring universities together, so that acting as one they can sustain—even grow—and breathe new life into their programs so they meet the ever-evolving needs of our students, their employers, our communities.

Here we can work together as a “sharing system” of 14 institutions to ensure all will succeed. The integrations do not only involve those combinations of universities that are brought together. All of our institutions have a role to play in supporting this effort: working as part of a sharing system to expand educational opportunities, rationalize educational programs and program planning, and drive down operating costs.

A process that formally explores the potential for integrating combinations of universities in this broader system context is not only about ensuring the viability of affordable quality education for all Pennsylvanians:

  • it is about the future of higher education in rural America, and of low-enrolled institutions;
  • it is about ensuring all Americans have affordable pathways into the middle class irrespective of their zip code; and
  • it is about addressing financial and other challenges that are well known across U.S. higher education. 
And, yes, the nation is watching us.

 ***
The process for integrating State System universities is defined by law in Act 50. It is transparent, consultative, analytical and intended to seek solutions, not implement solutions that have been predetermined.

The process is conducted in partnership with the General Assembly through quarterly check-ins with House and Senate Education and Appropriations Committees. It consists of four phases, progress between which requires affirmation by the Board of Governors. The phases, and the most expeditious path for their completion is outlined below.

  • Phase 1 involves a review of the financial impacts of a potential integration. That review was launched today. It could be completed by October 2020.
  • Phase 2 involves the development of a detailed plan (or plans) to integrate selected institutions; it could be completed in April 2021, with a mid-phase checkpoint in January.
  • Phase 3 involves a public comment period and could be completed by July 2021.
  • Phase 4 involves implementing the plan and could be completed for the start of fall term 2022.  

The legislation creating this opportunity received overwhelming support in the General Assembly. Along its journey to the Governor’s desk, it benefited from the input of countless constituencies whose attention and care made it stronger.

Today, and with humility, we begin the journey outlined in the Act to ensure that all Pennsylvanians continue to benefit from affordable, quality, relevant, public higher education, and that all our institutions continue as vibrant members of their communities.

Yes, today we pause to recognize a pivotal moment in our State System’s history. Tomorrow we get to work.

8 comments:

  1. Could the chancellor or his secretary monitor or read the comments section? I believe he asked for discussion. In the previous blog post there are several comments about herpes. These make our public platform look unprofessional. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for reaching out. We will continue to monitor all of the comments on this blog.

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  2. I am a little disappointed that this blog did not include information about the focal points of the potential integrated institutions (e.g., workforce development for LHU and MU). Reading of this in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed was helpful but would have been beneficial coming directly from the Chancellor.

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