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Education is often referred to as the great equalizer, though, some institutions offer greater accessibility to knowledge and resources than others. That is where state schools come into the picture.

In competition with universities and colleges of public, land-grant and private standing, state schools remained in the thoughts of those looking to further pursue their education through the draw of lower tuition costs and the promise of opportunities comparable to those competitor universities and colleges.

Though, the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has hit a bump during this race that it is desperately trying to recover from. A decreasing governmental budget that’s leaving already financially-strapped universities struggling to swim to slowly decreasing enrollment, PASSHE is looking for ways to navigate through these troubled waters.

While the PASSHE Board of Governors look to the future, universities, such as SRU, attempt to take care of their students in the present, meaning now more than ever it is important for students, especially those who are new, to pay attention.

What is PASSHE?

PASSHE consists of 14 state schools in the commonwealth: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.

While the individual 14 state schools that make up the PASSHE system were established before the integration of the system in 1983, PASSHE’s goals are focused on the increase of educational opportunities for students at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to prepare students for success from the community to the national level.

These schools can be found across the state of Pennsylvania, and include a historically Black college/university (HBCU): Cheyney.

Together these universities serve the largest amount of Pennsylvania residents and enrolls more than 93,000 degree-seeking students altogether, in addition to thousands of others who are enrolled in other career-development programs such as certificate programs.

What is the PASSHE redesign?

Much of The Rocket’s PASSHE coverage over the past two years has been dedicated to the pandemic and the system redesign. This redesign effort was announced the 2016-17 academic year in an effort to overcome stagnant enrollment and funding from the state.

As explained on the PASSHE website, there are three phases to ensuring a successful redesign of the system: 1). Ensuring student success, 2). Leveraging university strengths, and 3). Transforming the governance/leadership structure.

During phase one, which took place from approximately July 2017 to January 2019, PASSHE’s Board of Governors and chancellor completed tasks that would reform universities at the individual level. During phase two, which took place from approximately July 2018 to January 2020, PASSHE outlined the teams required to complete goals that would contribute to the success of the overall implementation plan.

This redesign is currently in phase three, which began in January 2020, and is focused on executing university integrations. After numerous combinations considered, including SRU at one point, as of March, PASSHE is proposing an integration of California, Clarion and Edinboro Universities in the West and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities in the Northeast.

Where does PASSHE go from here?

In February, PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein presented over Zoom an integrations progress report to the Board of Governors. Both the western and eastern integrations will each have their own single administration, faculty and strategy. While they will share a budget, the individual universities will keep their own identities, campus life and student housing.

At the Board of Governors meeting on April 14 and 15, the full plan will be presented to the board. If approved, the system must hold two public meetings and provide 60 days for public comment.
After the review of comments, the board can finalize approval as early as June. If that is to happen, the first integrated cohorts will be accepted for the fall 2022 semester.

With the state system allocated to receive more than $400 million in funding for the upcoming year, Greenstein expects the system to revise the allocation to universities formula in an effort to soften the hit well-performing universities take due to their underperforming counterparts. With the current allocation formula, universities like SRU receive less money from the system because of its better performance compared to its financially stressed sister universities, like Cheyney and Edinboro Universities.

In March, Greenstein provided testimony during the Pennsylvania Senate’s Appropriations Committee Budget meaning. While discussing the state system’s future redesign, the chancellor offered a stark warning if the plan is not approved.

“Unless we figure this out,” Greenstein said, “I will be recommending to the board that we come back to the Senate next year with a legislative package to dissolve the system because if we continue to go down this path, what you’re gonna see is that that cross-subsidization is going to drain all of us. Then, what does that mean for public higher education in this state?”

The chancellor’s comments set off a firestorm through the systems ranks. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) SRU Chapter President Jason Hilton called his words “reckless.”

When prospective students visit The Rock, they learn about our campus environment, major and course offerings, housing and dining options and more. SRU’s role in a state-wide system is not necessarily what prospective students seek to learn. Yet, as students of SRU, we are also students of PASSHE. As we return to a somewhat more normal college experience in the fall 2021 semester, students must continue to watch, listen and respond to news of developments in PASSHE.

This is even more important for younger students, especially those who have yet to see SRU’s campus community in its prime—in person with the opportunities to discuss, work and collaborate together. These students will see the impacts of changes in the state system, even if they didn’t foresee these changes and discussions because they simply didn’t know where to turn for information.

As we return to a more normal college semester, students need to stay alert, stay informed and ask questions. Students must follow news organizations (including and especially the student newspapers from across PASSHE), pay attention to conversations from APSCUF and participate as advocates in higher education.

While we don’t know what the final financial outcome of the pandemic and the PASSHE redesign will be, continuing to push for accessible and affordable higher education through knowledge and advocacy will be crucial, if not essential, to a successful future at The Rock and beyond.


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