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State-Owned University Chancellor Says Higher Education Has To Adapt To Meet Economic Needs

Michael Rubinkam

This fall, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education might soon integrate services across its 14 universities including Clarion, California, Indiana and Slippery Rock Universities.

The PASSHE board of governors this month unanimously agreed to evaluate how and if the individual institutions could share services and courses to give students more options. Chancellor Dan Greenstein made the pitch because he said mergers are the best way to address increasing costs in a system facing declining enrollment.

So this is about growth and opportunity. This is not about cost cutting and, you know, financial decline,” Greenstein said.

The study is part of the system’s redesign, which has been in the works for several years. It doesn’t mean universities will close, and students have been promised that they will be able to finish and earn their degrees. Greenstein said the implementation of any mergers wouldn’t begin until the fall of 2022.

A financial review will be undertaken over the next two years to look at integrating California and Clarion universities’ online degree programs. The review will look to integrate Edinboro and Slippery Rock Universities’ educational programs into one program to “drive down costs and coordinating enrollment strategies.” Also under consideration is a move to combine Lock Haven and Mansfield’s occupational programs for adult students.

“We are looking at these three combinations because they show enormous potential to sustainably serve more students, expand educational opportunity for their regions, and leverage the universities' proximity to one other," Greenstein said.

While Greenstein mantains that the mergers are not intended to cut costs, the system faces significant financial challenges.

A year ago the system froze tuition for the first time in 20 years, a move Greenstein had said was meant to send a message to state lawmakers about the need for more funding. The system faced a $60 million shortfall. The universities have seen total enrollment fall over the past eight years from about 112,000 to just over 90,000.

Greenstein at the time said the state can’t put the financial burden on students through tuition increases.