Senate Bill 1275, which would allow Pa. universities to separate themselves from the Pa. State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), was announced in a press conference in Harrisburg on March 11.
Senator Robert Tomlinson, who proposed the bill, explained that there four requirements under the bill for schools to be able to leave the state system. The university must have over 7,000 students enrolled, have an unqualified audit option for three years, and must have the financial ability to pay the state system a depreciated value of the university’s property over the span of 30 years, and must also be able to continue to contribute the employer share of pensions.
Schools that would separate from the system would not become private, but instead would be referred to as being “state-related” similar to the University of Pittsburgh or Temple University.
“Why am I doing this now?” Tomlinson asked. “This has been talked about for years. Every time I run into a trustee from another school [we always talk about] how we have to improve things for PASSHE and we have to improve things for the system. I think that what has happened is that power has collected in Harrisburg, and power has been taken away from your local schools to run their institutions.”
“I would like to try to put some of that [power] back, I’d like to put some of the money back and get some autonomy back in the local schools,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson explained the need for autonomy by telling a story about how West Chester and Cheney Universities were planning on working together to make a branch campus in Philadelphia. After working with PASSHE and believing that progress on the new campus was being made, the campus was denied to Tomlinson’s surprise.
While driving on the highway one day, Tomlinson passed a billboard that advertised PASSHE Center of Education in Philadelphia.
“They liked our idea a lot, they just didn’t let us do it,” Tomlinson said. “But the system that was supposed to be helping our students and us was helping themselves. Now I’m competing with the people who are supporting me. So who’s supporting who, and who exists for who?”
According to Senator Andy Dinniman, the bill is not only a state affair in Pa., but is predicted to be a national concern about the state of higher education.
Last year the governor’s advisory commission of higher education reported that the current financial situation of the Pa. education system calls for change, Dinniman explained. There have also been fewer students graduating from Pa. high schools, which means that there could be students coming into state universities. He explained that there still hasn’t been a public forum about what to do.
“This bill will force that discussion which has been too long delayed,” Dinniman said.
Check next week’s issue of The Rocket for Part 2 of the “Parting From PASSHE” series, which will discuss how the Tomlinon-Dinniman Bill could affect Slippery Rock University if it is passed.