Over the past several months, there’s been a considerable amount of discussion about a proposal put forth by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to consolidate six of its 14 universities. According to the proposal, three universities in the western part of the state – California, Clarion and Edinboro – would be consolidated into one campus, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield in another.
California University is very close to my district, and many residents attend and work at the university. In addition, many local businesses and organizations benefit from it being an integral part of our communities.
Earlier this month, I signed on to a letter authored by my colleague, state Rep. Mark Longietti, who serves as Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, urging a one-year delay in the implementation of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s consolidation plan. My colleagues and I have not been given enough information on this plan, and we have several unanswered questions and many concerns.
We have known that PASSHE, as a whole, has experienced declining enrollments and limited state appropriations over the past several years. Each of the universities, as directed by PASSHE, was required to develop and implement a 2025 sustainability plan, which California University did. That mandate changed when PASSHE required each university to achieve a 2022 sustainability plan. Again, California University did.
The university itself has done very well; it has increased its enrollment and is currently projected to end its budget year with a $5.7 million surplus and $27.4 million in reserve. Compare that to Clarion, which is expected to end its fiscal year with a deficit of $6 million in reserve, and Edinboro, which faces a $2.3 million budget deficit and a nearly $7 million deficit in its reserves. Nothing in the current Western Integration Plan from PASSHE includes a financial report, let alone any cost savings or decreases in student tuition. My colleagues and I are extremely concerned this merger would have a devastating impact on California University’s current and prospective students, alumni, faculty and staff. The proposed plan also fails to dictate who ultimately controls the branch campuses, which would be created under the plan.
It also fails to include details on what PASSHE calls its hybrid model. This model would require students to take an unknown number of college courses virtually. As someone who knows firsthand the issues our communities continue to face regarding affordable, accessible broadband access, this clearly creates substantial equity issues, where many students – including those in my district – will struggle. Many of us are also concerned about workforce reductions at the university, and if this integration plan were to be implemented, any staff reductions must be minimized.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has remained quiet on if it will ultimately grant accreditation to this “new university” that would be created under the proposed plan, and questions remain as to whether the National Collegiate Athletic Association would include it under its Division II category.
It is imperative we preserve access to these universities and the opportunities they provide. PASSHE was created to help students and families receive a quality, affordable education, and I will do all I can to ensure it keeps that promise with a plan that puts students and their families first.
State Rep. Pam Snyder is serving her fifth term representing the 50th State House District, which includes Greene, Fayette and Washington counties.