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Interim chancellor visits Cal U on university tour

Stephen Huba
| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 6:45 p.m.
Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney speaks at a news conference Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, at California University of Pennsylvania.
Tribune-Review
Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney speaks at a news conference Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, at California University of Pennsylvania.

Although she's just “running the place” temporarily, interim Chancellor Karen M. Whitney said Thursday she hopes to ensure a more stable future for Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities.

“We are in a time of intense change in American higher education,” she said at a news conference while visiting California University of Pennsylvania.

Whitney cited the challenges facing the State System of Higher Education, including lagging state funding and declining enrollment, but insisted the public universities still have a role to play.

“I think it's incumbent on us to leverage the strengths of the 14 universities to collectively advance the commonwealth,” she said.

Whitney, former president of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, has been touring the state and visiting the universities since she took office as interim chancellor on Sept. 12. Cal U was her seventh school, and she expects to have visited all of them by Oct. 17.

Whitney succeeds Chancellor Frank T. Brogan, who, before retiring, ordered a sweeping review of the state system.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the consultant hired to do the review, released its recommendations on July 12.

Whitney said she agrees with the report and will work to implement its recommendations, including the maintenance of all 14 schools.

“All 14 universities must continue. They are all vibrant, they are all distinctive and they are all important to the commonwealth,” she said.

Although five of the 14 schools have posted increases in enrollment in the past year, Whitney said such concerns are misplaced.

“The point is not: Is there decreasing enrollment? The point is: What's the purpose of the university and what is the strategic enrollment plan of the university?” she said. “It's not a matter of ‘bigger is better.' It's a matter of ‘Is the university achieving its purpose?' ”

In the case of Cal U, President Geraldine M. Jones said Thursday that enrollment figures are up – from 7,553 in 2016 to just under 7,700 in the current academic year.

Asked about the state's commitment to the university system at a time of budget shortfalls, Whitney said, “I never take for granted the state's investment in its universities. … I can make the case for continuing state investment, even during difficult economic times.”

Whitney said one measure of success is the fact that 80 percent of the students who start their college education in Pennsylvania stay in Pennsylvania. Eighty-two percent of those who graduate find work in their field of study.

Whitney said it's important for the universities to promote their unique strengths – in the case of Cal U, science and technology – while working together more collaboratively.

The state system, with a total enrollment of about 105,000 students, includes California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

Whitney will serve as interim chancellor until a permanent replacement for Brogan is found, probably next summer. A national search is schedule to start this fall.

The review of the state system can be found at passhe.edu.

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