Chancellor calls for transforming, unifying Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities
Daniel Greenstein, the new chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, on Wednesday called upon stakeholders to begin transforming the struggling university system where enrollment has dropped by more than 21,000 over the past decade.
The former Gates Foundation executive stopped short of calling for mergers or campus closings in his first “State of the System” address. Instead, he said, the survival of the 14 schools will depend on collaboration and a focus on student needs.
The schools — which include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania — were placed under the umbrella of the system 36 years ago but continued to operate independently. Together, they enrolled about 98,000 students last fall.
While Greenstein praised the institutions and the roles they play statewide and in the small towns where they’re located, he said they must become a true system.
“We can’t tweak our way out of this,” he said. “In a transformed system, our universities stop competing on every dimension. Instead, they organize to leverage their enormous collective operating scale, to utilize their tremendous collective talent in ways that extend and expand opportunities for all.
“In a transformed system — a sharing system — every student on every campus has access to the full breadth of academic programming at every other campus across the system.”
New public-private partnerships and aligning programs with workforce needs will be a major part of the focus on student rather than institutional needs, Greenstein said.
Public universities throughout the Northeast and Midwest have faced a shrinking population of traditional college-age students and stagnant or declining state support. But Greenstein said those factors are concentrated in Pennsylvania, which is home to nearly 100 independent colleges and universities and has more seats than students to fill them.
Those factors have created a circle of tuition increases that further depresses enrollment.
PASSHE, Greenstein told the Tribune-Review, has a chance to create a template for states facing similar challenges with public universities.
Addressing the 20-member oversight board that governs PASSHE, Greenstein insisted there is a will to survive and thrive among the institutions he leads. Meeting the goal of providing a high-quality, low-cost college education that opens doors for a new generation of students is imperative.
“The strength of the economy and the health of its people and the well-being of the state rely upon it,” Greenstein said. “Health outcomes, voter participation and social services cost — a lot of good things come out of effective higher education.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, email@example.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .