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Pa. lawmakers debate plan to consolidate state universities

The moves would not affect the other three state system schools in the midstate -- Kutztown, Millersville, and Shippensburg.

  • Emily Rizzo/WHYY
A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(Philadelphia) – The state House debated a plan Tuesday that would merge six of Pennsylvania’s state universities into two regional schools.

The plan would combine two sets of schools within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Bloomsburg Universities would join together in the northeastern region, as would three western schools: Clarion University, Edinboro University, and California University of Pennsylvania. The moves would not affect the other three state system schools in the midstate — Kutztown, Millersville, and Shippensburg.

During a joint session of the House Education and Appropriation Committees, PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein testified and was met with both fierce opposition and support from lawmakers.

Greenstein encouraged the general assembly to meet somewhere in the middle, but pushed for drastic change in Pennsylvania’s higher education system.

“This system is at a tipping point,” Greenstein said. “It is no longer sustainable in the current model. And modest tweaks to that model will not serve our students, it will not serve their communities, and it will not serve the state.”

Greenstein said the plan would help cut the cost of getting a degree at each of the schools by as much as 25%. That mostly accounts for students who enter through dual degree programs or from community college partnerships. Students could transfer from nearby community colleges and their credits would count.

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.

There was much confusion about how much money the system would save through the consolidations.

After last week’s PASSHE board meeting, several media outlets, including WHYY, reported Greenstein saying the merger would save $18.4 million over five years — a figure many lawmakers also understood.

On Tuesday, Greenstein clarified that would be a compounding, yearly savings, totaling $100 million over the next five years. Most of those savings would come by cutting administrative and support positions, according to the PASSHE merger report.

System leaders say they need the state to invest $100 million to help cover the transition. Staying the course, Greenstein said, would require a 5% tuition hike that he said would cause the system to lose an additional $50 million in yearly revenue.

Several House Democrats doubted the savings projections and said they have been waiting for a full economic impact report from PASSHE leaders for months.

Lawmakers also raised concerns about the impact of consolidation-related job loss and predicted the move could lead to even more decreases in student enrollment.

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