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Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities will merge into Commonwealth University

A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.
Gene J. Puskar
A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

Three state-owned universities in Pennsylvania will soon be known as the consolidated Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania after a vote by the State System Board of Governors on Wednesday.

The board voted unanimously to make the change involving Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities, although those previous names will still be widely used — including for logos and on diplomas.

The system says Commonwealth University will not be “a public-facing identifier,” but rather a background name that will let the three schools legally become a single entity. There will be one accredited institution and a single administration, said state system spokesman Cody Jones.

The State System has been formally working on the merger for almost two years. It’s part of an effort to reorganize six of its 14 campuses to broaden course offerings and improve falling enrollments. Just over 88,000 students signed up for courses at State System schools last fall, down almost six percent from the year before.

The change is expected to make it easier for students to attend classes at any of the three schools.

University communities have been concerned students would lose access to in-person classes as part of the move. State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein said in a Thursday interview that three-quarters of students at the integrated schools won’t be impacted because they’re in high-enrollment majors like STEM and education.

“[Those] will all have a presence on the ground, so their lives won’t change very much at all and certainly not very much at all next year,” Greenstein said.

The remaining students are in specialized majors, which Greenstein said will be taught in an in-person/online combination format within the next few years.

The universities are still tackling how individual curriculum departments will merge, as well as how to preserve the individual cultures of each school as much as possible.

“How does our department act? How do we assign workload? And you know, over time, those things, those differences of approach and mindset and mindset even need to be, to come together.”

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, a union which represents PASSHE faculty, said it still has concerns about the logistics of the merger and whether the name change would cause “confusion” for new students. Greenstein said he’s directed individual university heads to answer those questions.

“We as faculty and coaches are doing all we can for our students’ success on every campus,” APSCUF President, Dr. Jamie Martin, said in a statement.

Last fall, the state system board merged California, Clarion and Edinboro universities into Pennsylvania Western University, or Penn West.

The changes require approval from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Greenstein said that decision could be coming within the next few weeks.

The university system also is working with the NCAA to get permission for each campus to continue to field its own sports teams. Greenstein explained the association requires universities to have independent athletics departments so teams can “genuinely compete.”

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