PASSHE faculty survey shows lack of support for mergers

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • According to a new survey from its faculty union, most faculty members at the six universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education slated for consolidation don’t support the proposal.
  • Nearly 70% of the roughly 1,000 faculty surveyed said they don’t back the plan, while some 78% don’t think the process has been transparent.
  • PASSHE has drawn criticism for combining the institutions into two new entities but says the change is needed to combat budget troubles within the 14-school system.

Dive Insight:

support for mergers

PASSHE officials want to merge California, Clarion, and Edinboro universities into a single entity focused on online education. In contrast, the united Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities would emphasize stackable credentials. Based on the schools’ current enrollments, the resulting two organizations would be the second-and third-largest PASSHE institutions.

The system’s enrollment has been trending downward for more than a decade. Officials have said they aim for the consolidations to reduce students’ cost of attendance and expand educational options. In-state undergraduate tuition has climbed about 33% since 2010 due to enrollment declines and heavy cuts to state appropriations.

While the system has been slow to publicly share details about the integrations, its leadership is ratcheting up the pressure to get them done. PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein told lawmakers in March that he would recommend dissolving the system if it didn’t make operational changes.

His assertion drew a mixed response from lawmakers. One pledged to sponsor such legislation, and another called it a threat to make the PASSHE governing board approve the merger plan. The faculty union also said it viewed the statement as a threat. Greenstein, however, has presented the situation as dire.

Some observers say consolidation won’t be enough to improve PASSHE’s financial position, who says more state money is needed. But Pennsylvania’s highly saturated and competitive public higher education market is a barrier to getting those funds.

“Everyone knows change is necessary, even if it’s hard,” PASSHE spokesperson David Pidgeon said in an emailed statement, adding that the system has pursued the integrations “in the full light of transparency.”

The system is expected to update the governing board on the mergers this month. The proposal will also be open to a two-month public comment period.

Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, conducted the survey in a statement that encouraged the system to take faculty concerns to heart. “Unfortunately, there is little faculty buy-in to the current plan,” she wrote.

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