Plans to restructure the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) were outlined in brief by state system chancellor Dr. Daniel Greenstein during an open forum at SRU on Monday morning.
Since being appointed chancellor in September, Greenstein promised to revitalize the state system, saying that he would explore a wide breadth of options to offset declining enrollment. He proposed what he called a “sharing system” at Monday’s town hall, implying that PASSHE schools would share educational resources across the system to provide more opportunity for students.
“Right now is the time,” Greenstein said. “We’re not just going to be able to tweak our way out of the financial difficulties that we’re experiencing at the moment. We have to make large-scale changes and innovations if we want to achieve our overall mission of providing a quality, affordable education across the system.”
His visit to SRU is the first in a “listening and learning” tour that he is taking across PASSHE institutions in the spring. Greenstein intends to lay out his ideas on how to redesign and optimize the state system and get feedback from administrations across the state.
A short video began Greenstein’s presentation, outlining some of the projected future of the job market for recent college graduates. With companies increasing their use of artificial intelligence, Greenstein emphasized the importance of designing curriculum so that it’s grounded in skills outlined by employers.
Greenstein provided examples of students who had to delay their graduation because a required course for their degree was not being offered by their university. He said that it’s ridiculous that a student would have to prolong their time at college and pay more instead of graduating on-time. Under the sharing system Greenstein described, students would be able to take courses online at other PASSHE schools if their institution is not offering the classes they need to advance in their degree program.
“Transforming fundamentally is how we’ll sustain ourselves,” Greenstein said. “We’re a single bank account. Even when institutions like West Chester and Slippery Rock succeed, it’s all of our problem when others aren’t performing as well. This system will enable universities to sustain themselves with lower enrollment numbers.”
Greenstein had few specifics to offer as to how the sharing system would be implemented starting in the fall, saying that he doesn’t have all the answers of how to alleviate the problems that PASSHE has faced in recent years pertaining to financial stability.
According to figures provided in his presentation, only West Chester University has had an increase in enrollment since 2010, 21 percent. SRU’s enrollment did not change over the eight-year span measured by PASSHE. Edinboro, Mansfield and Cheyney Universities experienced the sharpest declines of any PASSHE institutions at 44, 52 and 70 percent respectively.
SRU President Dr. William Behre expressed some concern over the proposed changes under the PASSHE restructure. He asked Greenstein how he planned to keep a healthy balance between aiding suffering universities and lifting up those who are more stable financially.
“How do you make sure you’re still feeding the giants?” Behre said. “We’re a series of interconnected institutions of higher education dedicated to preparing students to enter an evolving workforce. How do you make sure that the strong aren’t dragged down by the weak?”
Greenstein saw this issue as akin to the problems of “great society,” saying that he hears questions like this all the time during campus visits.
“All schools have a vested interest in their own success and the success of their students, and that should be expected,” Greenstein said. “It’s a question you have to reconcile in situations like these. How do you not disincentivize the rich while supporting the poor? Our scale that we have is enormous, and I believe this redesign will put more capability in the hands of our students.”
Greenstein described himself as a “random idea generator,” and said he likes to get out his abstract thoughts and work from there when approaching an issue. He said that solutions come from the ground up and discussions like these help him and his advisors as they prepare for the future of PASSHE.
“We have a sense of where we have to be but not quite what we have to do to get there,” Greenstein said. “PASSHE should be self-consciously seeking to improve its culture. It’s my job to help us form concrete and observable values that we can hold ourselves accountable to in the future.”