Pa. State System Redesign reaches the final stage, what does that mean?

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PASSHE releases plan for possible school consolidation

This article has been updated with the correct name of APSCUF President Martin

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pa. State System of Higher Education is now moving into the last phase of its system redesign plan. The three-phase plan combines six universities, all with less enrollment and/or financial issues, together to give students expanded opportunities in any field.

What universities are being consolidated? 

Bloomsburg, Mansfield, and Lock Haven being combined to create a Northeast integration. California, Clarion, and Edinboro are coming together to create the West integration. All will run under one president, with those announcements coming later on in Phase 3.

When is this happening?

A final decision on it happening will be in July of this year. It is expected to begin fully in the Fall of 2022.

Why is this happening?

Back in 2016, the State System realized it was facing challenges of shrinking enrollment, little funding from the state, rising tuition costs, and now struggles from the COVID-19 pandemic. To prevent closing any universities, State System officials recruited students, faculty, staff, leaders, and more to help create an integration plan to cut costs and provide more opportunities.

The group created to make the redesign plan opened their minds to creating new programs to meet the needs of employers. Programs created from this endeavor include a Social Media Theory and Strategy major and a Doctor of Social Work program.

How is this affecting campus communities?

This is where many issues lie. Professors and staff are facing possible retrenchment, or losing their jobs, even at the schools not a part of the integration. And with that, students lose programs.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) has been standing in opposition to the consolidation for a long time. APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin says about 70% of faculty members from the future consolidations do not support the move.

“Cuts hurt students, and we cannot see any way that cutting faculty and, in some cases, entire departments, would not take opportunities away from Pennsylvania students,” Martin said.

Even though it is not a part of the integration, Indiana University of Pa. is losing 81 professors due to the sharp fall of enrollment. At Shippensburg University of Pa., and at almost all the schools, adjunct professors have been let go.

“In some cases, retrenchments have wiped out entire departments — such as the journalism and public-relations department at IUP, and, at Cheyney, one of our nation’s oldest HBCUs, there will be no library faculty at that university as of early June. Students who are majoring in disciplines that have been discontinued or severely slashed — or those who desire the full range of student services (such as library services) — may decide to enroll in schools that offer those,” Martin said.

Sports? The System is currently working on it with the NCAA, but it’s unknown what that means.

“Our coaches are already seeing the difficulty this uncertainty is creating as they recruit for future teams,” Martin said. “If a student does not know how many online classes they will have to take at a consolidating university, they may choose to go to a university where they know what to expect.”

What’s been the response?

Response to the plan is mixed.

“We have been speaking with legislators, and our members are participating in the State System’s public-comment period,” Martin said.

In a discussion over Zoom last week, PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein heard concerns from them, as well as students and faculty. In the past, Greenstein has said the system will die if this merger does not happen.

“Inaction is not the way,” Greenstein said.

Students and faculty say they’ve been left in the dark about the plan, and feel the impact will strike the campuses heavily.

“I feel like I’m watching [Lock Haven University] be destroyed before my very eyes,” LHU Clerk Typist Shawn O’Dell said in the discussion.

In the Pa. Senate senators are pleading for a pause on the consolidation and that it is happening too quickly. 

“There are too many human beings that are going to be hurt through this,” Sen. Jim Brewster (D – Allegheny) said.

But, there is some support.

“I’m excited with whatever comes out that we have new possibilities,” Sen. Judy Schwank (D – Berks) said. “Not just continuing on the path we’re on and preserving what we have but make it better.”

The State System is planning more hearings in June before the July deadline. Those details, and a place to comment, can be found here.

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