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State-Owned University System Moves Closer To Consolidating Six Schools
Courtesy of Clarion University
Clarion University is one of six schools in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education that could be consolidated if a plan from the chancellor's office meant to reduce costs moves forward.

On today’s program: The chancellor for Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education explains why he supports plans that would consolidate six universities into two, while leaving each campus open; the president of the state system faculty union weighs in on the consolidation plan and why members oppose it; and County Councilperson DeWitt Walton talks about the newly approved Independent Police Review Board.

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education Chancellor says consolidation will save $18 million a year after five years
(0:00 — 6:42)

The board of governors of the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) tentatively approved consolidation plans by a 17-2 margin to bring six universities together into two groups.

“The system has lost enrollment, the size of the high school-leaving population in Pennsylvania has shrunk, state funding for higher education has forced us to push up tuition, which has also hurt our enrollment, and as universities get smaller, they can only manage as many programs as their enrollments can sustain,” explains system Chancellor Dan Greenstein as the reason why this “integration plan” was proposed.

The board of governors approved a 60-day public review and comment period.

California, Clarion and Edinboro Universities would be merged to form a “West” group, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities would become a “North East” group.

“The integration plan sort of emerged out of a financial analysis that was conducted from a period of July to October to look at various different combinations, and which would return the best results for our students and also for the financial health of the system,” says Greenstein.

Each university group would have one president, all campuses would remain open, and there would be integrated faculty and curriculum. Greenstein says the plan would save an estimated $18 million a year after five years, and would not eliminate faculty jobs. He adds, however, some jobs may be lost to cut costs and meet other university sustainability goals.

The governor flat-funded the system this year, with no increases or decreases compared to last year’s budget. Greenstein says as a state-owned university system, its future is reliant upon the legislature to help support it.

Faculty union president says PASSHE consolidation plan is moving too fast
(6:44 — 12:54)

Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), says the union has many questions and concerns about the consolidation plan.

“[We have] concerns about students being forced into hybrid courses, concerns about the economic impact on the communities in which those universities reside, and concerns about the cost versus savings of the consolidation plan as it was announced,” says Martin.

She says the plan is moving too fast, and may be ignoring student voices and the communities universities serve.

“The notion that there’s not going to be an economic impact is disingenuous because the impact is going to happen this year and next in those communities because of the massive job loss,” says Martin.

Enrollment at PASSHE universities has dropped since 2010 and 2011, but Martin says enrollment is now at the same level it was in 2000.

“The one thing that has changed since 2000 and now is the level of state funding that the university system receives. We’re anywhere from 47th to 48th in the nation in funding for public higher education,” says Martin. “Then the question would be, are we good stewards of that funding, or are students worth additional support from the state?”

Martin says the union was hopeful the 60-day review period would be a chance to get many questions and concerns addressed, but is disheartened that there will be only two hearings in June.

County police independent review board has been approved
(12:59 — 18:00)

Allegheny County Council approved an Independent Police Review Board, a move that comes after years of discussions with other council members and tweaking the measure when it didn’t garner enough support.

“After four years of work and debate, discussion, compromise, we finally reached a point where we were able to generate the needed support to pass this legislation and be able to get it signed into law,” says County Councilor DeWitt Walton, the bill’s co-sponsor.

Walton says the bill gives the new board an opportunity to grow and prove itself.

The board only currently applies to Allegheny County police, but other municipalities can opt in to also have oversight from the board. Walton didn’t name any, but says he has heard “of several municipalities that will opt in.”

He says everyone benefits from the board, and calls it an opportunity to make law enforcement effective, equitable and just for everyone.

“This legislation is merely a beginning, it’s not the end. It’s not a perfect piece of legislation and it doesn’t meet all of the challenges that we’re confronted with as communities and as a county,” says Walton. “However, it provides us a basis on which we can build.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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