Geraldine Jones

Geraldine Jones

More opportunities for students. That’s the driving force that propels California University of Pennsylvania toward a proposed integration with Clarion and Edinboro universities.

With the initial financial review completed and the initiative affirmed unanimously by the Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, the trio of Western Pennsylvania universities is formulating plans to combine and collaborate, rather than compete.

As envisioned now, a Cal U.-Clarion-Edinboro integration would create a single accredited university – a powerhouse that would offer a broad array of in-person and online courses on three different campuses, each with its own identity, culture and traditions.

It’s a bold concept with the potential to benefit students both academically and financially.

Once academic programs are integrated into a unified array, students will have an expanded “menu” of on-campus and remote-learning options to choose from. Traditional students at Cal U., for example, might learn from faculty in California or study with professors based at Clarion or Edinboro. Students on each of the three campuses would have more academic choices than a single partner currently can provide – and more choices create more opportunities for students to shape their future.

Online learners will benefit from integration, too. Cal U. has delivered 100% online degree and career-focused certificate programs for more than 15 years; Clarion and Edinboro also have strong online offerings. Together, the schools expect to assemble a robust online program that’s competitively priced and aligned with the commonwealth’s workforce needs. Such a program should be especially attractive to adult learners, including the roughly one million Pennsylvanians who’ve earned some college credits but never finished their degree.

Combining operations at Cal U., Clarion and Edinboro undoubtedly will uncover cost efficiencies and economies of scale. These savings will be reinvested to enhance the student experience and rein in the overall cost of college attendance. For generations, all three institutions have unlocked a brighter future for students from all backgrounds, including those who are the first in their families to attend college. As a single university serving more than 15,000 students, the new, integrated entity will be better positioned to control costs for students and their families.

Although Cal U., Clarion and Edinboro have been exploring possibilities for several months as part of the overall system redesign, the planning phase of integration is in its early stages. Many questions have yet to be answered; many possibilities remain to be explored. Leaders at all three campuses are committed to maintaining their local identity and honoring their ties to alumni and the local community. But we are convinced that integration is the way forward.

Over its 168-year history, California has proved its resilience. Through hard work and dedication, a small, private academy on the banks of the Monongahela River transformed itself into a normal school, a teachers college, a state college and a comprehensive public university. This is another moment of transformation, another chance to build on our past and invent a future where all students are empowered to reach their full potential. For the sake of our students and the opportunities they deserve, Cal U. must continue to evolve.

Geraldine M. Jones is president of California University of Pennsylvania, which serves nearly 6,900 undergraduate and graduate students. Founded in 1852, Cal U. is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

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