State system's new chancellor talks change as campus tour stops at California University
By Craig Smith
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Changes are needed at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities to transform them into “world class” educational facilities, the system's new chancellor, Frank T. Brogan, said Wednesday.
“We have 14 wonderful institutions,” he said during a visit to California University of Pennsylvania, the ninth stop on a tour of the schools he has been overseeing since becoming chancellor Oct. 1.
Brogan said he has found a lot to like about the system, in particular the independence and uniqueness of the universities and the mix of students and skill levels.
But change is going to come, said Brogan, the former two-term lieutenant governor of Florida who headed the State University System of Florida before assuming his most recent role.
Brogan, who also served as president of Florida Atlantic University, suggested a top-to-bottom review of online education, tuition, fees and course offerings.
“I'm trying in one man's very small way to ... knit together the 14 universities,” he said.
While not spelling out a timeline for his plans, Brogan said the sooner the better.
“There's an urgency to all of this,” he said. “There's lots to do.”
Brogan's plans were met with skepticism by faculty union leaders.
“I'm cautious for a number of reasons,” said Michael Slavin, president of the California chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty. “This is the third person we've hired from Florida and they all basically said the same thing. ... I didn't hear him say anything about dealing with the political atmosphere that is basically undercutting education in Pennsylvania.”
Like other educational systems across the country, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE, is going through a critical realignment to keep pace “in a very competitive market,” Brogan said.
Universities in the state have been placing programs with low enrollment on hold while enrolling more students in programs in science, technology, mathematics, business and health.
But PASSHE is not just the “giant vocational, technical center of the future,” Brogan said. It is a place where students learn about art, culture, sciences and literature.
“That's the hallmark ... we have to hang onto that,” Brogan said.
At the same time, the system has to make sure that its programs “have real-world needs.”
One of the key challenges, Brogan said, is to keep students here after they graduate.
“There's still a lot of questions ... what will the economy look like?” he said. “Can we create an environment to keep them here?”
The state-owned universities have a combined enrollment of about 115,000 students, nearly 90 percent Pennsylvania residents, Brogan said.
“That's an amazing statistic,” he said. “(The schools) have enormous regional and statewide impact.”
Another hallmark of the system has been its lower costs.
“You can get it cheap at a PASSHE school,” Brogan said.
Tuition at the state-owned universities was increased 3 percent — about $194 a year — for the 2013-14 academic year. Tuition is $6,622 for in-state, full-time students per year.
Brogan said he hopes to retain the local charm of the schools during the transformation.
It's possible, for instance, to “maintain the independence of California University while making it a stronger player on the system side and the commonwealth side.”
The next stop on Brogan's tour is Slippery Rock University.
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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