State system looks to combine 6 universities into 2

The Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education may integrate Clarion, Edinboro and California universities.

University officials are aiming to cut the cost of attendance by 25% at the six universities involved in a consolidation plan being developed by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The state system announced in October that it’s working on a plan to integrate six universities into two by combining — Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield; as well as Clarion, Edinboro and California University of Pennsylvania.

The state system has until April to come up with the plan detailing how those consolidations would work. The earliest that the integrated universities would be in place would be the fall of 2022.

“One important component they’re looking at is how three universities could leverage their combined scale and reduce the net cost of attendance (tuition plus fees plus room plus board and so on), with 25 percent as a goal,” said David Pidgeon, a spokesman for PASSHE.

Daniel Greenstein, PASSHE chancellor, included the goal of cutting college costs during a presentation university system leaders held in November. In that presentation, Greenstein listed cutting enrollment costs as a goal, along with increasing enrollment by 8% within five years.

Pidgeon said system officials believe there is a need to reduce college costs to be more competitive in trying to attract students.

“We’ve seen during the last decade a tightening of price differential between us, the public higher education option, and other higher ed pathways,” Pidgeon said. “One of our overriding goals is to protect and even improve upon the affordability advantage we have while also maintaining quality,” he said.

State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, a member of the PASSHE Board of Trustees, said it’s premature to guess how much the state system's redesign will reduce the cost of attendance at the combined universities.

“There will be cost savings with integrating Edinboro, Clarion and California as well as cost savings system-wide with the redesign initiative,” he said. “In my opinion it is too early to predict any specific possible decrease since some of the savings could be used to expand educational opportunities for high demand careers,” Roae said.

System officials haven’t explained how they would generate the savings needed to reduce the cost of attendance, said Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. The proposed reduction would only impact students at the two integrated universities, which raises questions about how the move would impact the system’s other eight universities, she said.

“It could have a deleterious effect on the other universities. If I’m a student and you’re making Bloomsburg less than East Stroudsburg, why would I go to East Stroudsburg?” Martin said.

Martin said there are many questions about how the system plans to integrate the six universities into the two regional universities. For students, that includes questions as basic as what will the name of the integrated universities be and what kind of individual identity will remain associated with each campus.

For student-athletes, it’s unclear how sports teams and scholarships will be impacted at the integrated universities. For faculty, one of the big questions is how seniority of faculty will be dealt with when faculties from different universities are merged together, she said.

 
 

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CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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