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Classes At Pa.’s state-owned universities will be mostly held online in fall, system approves building sales in cost-cutting move

  • Sam Dunklau
The atrium of the Lombardo Welcome Center at Millersville University

The atrium of the Lombardo Welcome Center at Millersville University

(Harrisburg) — A majority of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities will be holding classes remotely this fall. Several universities in the State System of Higher Education are taking different approaches, but all plan to forge on with the fall semester.

According to SSHE spokesman Dave Pidgeon, the 14 schools all fall into three categories:

  • Campuses that are conducting nearly all operations remotely for the fall semester: California, Clarion, Edinboro, Millersville, and West Chester universities,


  • Campuses that will host 75 percent of their classes remotely, and 25 percent in person: East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock universities,


  • Campuses that plan to conduct a blend of remote, hybrid and face to face learning: Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Kutztown, and Shippensburg universities.

Enrollments are expected to be lower this year as students weigh whether they want to pay for an online-only experience.

But Pidgeon said the universities will make it worth their while.

This file photo shows Shippensburg University, which saw enrollment decline by 312 students this year, for a total of nearly 6,100.

Dan Gleiter / PennLive

FILE PHOTO: With 95,802 students enrolled, the State System of Higher Education now has about the same enrollment as it had 20 years ago, according to the official fall semester student count released on Tuesday. At Shippensburg University (shown here), enrollment declined by 312 students this year, for a total of nearly 6,100.

“We still have a responsibility to provide a quality and affordable education for those students who are sticking with us. We’ll stick with them if they stick with us,” he said.

Pigeon said personal protective equipment will be available where necessary, and notes some universities are even changing how people can move in and out of their buildings, similar to what grocery stores have done.

Earlier this month, Governor Tom Wolf’s office gave $28 million to help higher education pay for the necessary changes amid the COVID-19.

“This pandemic is also asking a lot of us as individual members of a community,” Pidgeon said. “Each is looking at the other as a partner in raising the level of health and safety on our campus…through mask-wearing and hand-washing and social distancing.”

Meanwhile, the State System’s Board of Governors Thursday approved selling several buildings in an attempt to shave costs.

Both the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg, where classes are held and the system’s chancellor has offices, and a cluster of buildings at Porreco College in Erie, are on the chopping block. Edinboro University, which Porreco College is housed under, proposed and approved the sale last month.

The Board of Governors said both properties “exceed the needs” of those who work and take classes there.

Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira explained the move will help refocus resources where they’re needed.

“Our mission is not about buildings,” Shapira said during a virtual meeting. “Our mission is about providing leadership, establishing the outcomes that we want for this system, for our universities, and more importantly for our students.”

It’s estimated Pennsylvania’s higher education system has lost hundreds of millions of dollars since the coronavirus pandemic began more than five months ago.

Board of Governors member and state Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford & Erie counties) also agreed with the move.

“What helps our students is the professors and the learning that takes place,” he said. “Extra office space we don’t need isn’t really accomplishing anything, so I fully support this. I think it’s a good idea.”

The sales will still need to be approved by the state legislature.

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