Pennsylvania’s state system of higher education advanced plans to consolidate a handful of colleges. The Midstate sends a lot of students to those schools. Wednesday’s vote now kickstarts a 60-day public comment period. The earliest the board could approve the final plans in July, which means integrated universities could begin accepting students as soon as the summer of 2022.

Under the plan, California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, and Edinboro universities would integrate and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities would do the same.

“Students can still apply to Clarion, Cal and Edinboro as they have in the past. What will change eventually is the application portal, and so for this should be seamless,” said Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, President of Clarion University, and interim President at Edinboro University, and the western integration project lead.

Officials blame declining enrollment and increasing costs and say budget shortfalls mean some cuts are inevitable with or without integration.

“Those reductions are happening independently of whether the board approves integration or not. They are happening as part of the board’s policy that all of our universities must operate under a balanced budget,” said Dan Greenstein, chancellor of the state system of higher education.

Officials say integration would ensure that the newly combined schools would be able to keep offering a comprehensive range of studies.

“Our smaller institutions just do not have the enrollment to maintain all of their programs. By integrating, we will be able to offer a whole host of additional programs that will have to go away if we don’t integrate,” said Bashar Hanna, president of Bloomsburg University and interim President at Lock Haven University.

It’s important to reiterate, all six campuses that are part of the integration plans would remain open with the integrated faculty and curriculum.

Wednesday, the union representing some workers at state schools said they strongly oppose the plan, because of likely layoffs.