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2017-03-24 / News

State university system seeks evaluation from Colorado-based nonprofit

By Spencer Myers

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is struggling to maintain student and enrollment rates amidst declines in both population and high school graduates.

Overall, the statewide system has seen enrollment decrease by more than 14,000 since 2010, when it peaked at 120,000.

In 2014, retention rates from freshman to sophomore year were as low as 44 percent at Cheyney and 70 percent at both Edinboro and Lock Haven universities, and as high as 88 percent at West Chester and 83 percent at Slippery Rock, according to a report from the Associated Press.

In 2010, universities in the state system saw a graduation rate of 38.6 percent.

Every student lost means less funding for the universities. To meet the loss of revenue, PASSHE Chancellor Frank T. Brogan and other system leaders have urged the state government to increase its investment in state-owned universities in the proposed 2017-2018 budget.

The system’s board of governors requested $505.2 million for this year’s budget to help support the operations of the 14 universities. Governor Tom Wolf proposed a budget of $453.1 million for the statewide system. According to release from PASSHE, the system projects $80 million in increased costs for next year.

“All of our universities continue to face enormous cost pressures,” Brogan told members of both committees. “They continue to be innovative and are much more efficient with the resources they have available. But increased investment by the Commonwealth is essential as they strive to provide the high-quality, high-value educational opportunities our students, their families—and you— have come to expect.

“We are so appreciative that both the governor and the General Assembly recognize the immense value of the state system and continue to support our universities and our students,” said board of governors chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira in a release. “That support represents an important investment in Pennsylvania’s future; one that pays huge dividends for the entire Commonwealth.”

According to the release, the state system is still receiving about $60 million less than it did a decade ago.

As a result, PASSHE is bringing in the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a Colorado-based nonprofit organization, to help reorganize the system.

NCHEMS has worked with several other higher education systems in Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon and Tennessee that are facing similar challenges.

The review is expected to be finished by the end of the summer, after which NCHEMS will provide its recommendations for the state system.

“We can’t just tinker around the edges; this is our chance to shape the future of our 14 universities and the future of our students’ lives, which is what matters most,” Brogan said in a release.

In a question and answer released to the public, the board of governors state they do not plan on closing any of the system’s 14 universities as a result of the review.

“No. We don’t know what recommendations will be made at the conclusion of the review, but there are no preconceptions. As we have stated before, other states have undertaken mergers or closures, but our goal is to find solutions that are right for Pennsylvania.” .

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