"Significant" changes could be coming to state university systemChancellor announces new study of the 14-school system
Major changes could be coming to the organization and operation of the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
State System officials announced this week they plan to launch a study expected to lay the groundwork for those changes. The study could begin early this year and be completed by the end of the year, State System officials said Friday.
All who have a part in the State System, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and elected leaders, will be asked to provide input into the process, a news release said.
"We will be taking a hard look at how we are organized today, and how we need to be organized in the future in order to continue to serve our students and the commonwealth as its public university system," system Chancellor Frank Brogan said in the annual State of the System address.
Like other U.S. public university systems, Pennsylvania’s has struggled for the better part of a decade with declining state support and falling enrollment, system officials noted.
Nationally, state funding to higher education has been reduced by nearly $3 billion since the beginning of the recession in 2008, while overall college enrollment has declined for five straight years, they continued.
The State System has received increased funding in each of the last two years, but the current year’s appropriation is still about $60 million less than the amount it received in the year before the recession began around 2008, they added.
Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said that "the year we just went through was perhaps the most challenging in the State System's history. Many of our universities are feeling the twin effects of declining revenues and enrollments.
"And, as daunting as those challenges have been, there is little doubt that 2017 will bring new and perhaps even greater challenges. In fact, I believe this year will be pivotal for the State System," she said.
In the upcoming study, Brogan said, "Every bit of this system — as great as it has been over the years — will be examined. From how we operate the office of the chancellor to how we are organized as a system, we are approaching this strategic review with no restraints, no preconceptions and no limits.
"Other states are wrestling with the same issues we are, leading to the reorganization of public university systems in many states around the country, including the merger or even closure of institutions," Brogan continued.
"Is that where we are headed? That’s a question I can't answer today, nor can anyone else. But it is a question we have to ask, and we have to answer, this year, not in the future, because this system and our universities are essential to Pennsylvania’s future."
System officials now are seeking proposals from consultants interested in assisting with the study, and the deadline to receive them is this coming Tuesday.
Brogan added that system leaders "must take steps now to unshackle our universities from arcane rules, practices and procedures that are preventing them from being the engines of opportunity they are intended to be. What worked 30 years ago (when the system was created) in many cases isn’t working today.
"If our state-owned universities are to survive, more than that, if they are to thrive into the future, we must be willing to evolve," the chancellor added. "We cannot just tinker around the edges; we’ve got to be brave enough to explore every option as we move forward."
The system has had notable accomplishments recently, Brogan noted, such as a new statewide reverse transfer agreement it signed last year with Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges. The agreement is designed to help students achieve their first college degree.
There also have been new policy initiatives that benefit students by strengthening the universities’ general education requirements, helping students stay on track to graduation and ensuring their degrees are relevant, the news release added.