A random tweet in my Twitter feed displayed the following:
Chancellor of Pa. State System says university cuts are regrettable but necessary http://t.co/dCSVlX1Ht1
— US Higher Education (@USHigherEdu) October 11, 2013
When I clicked on the story, I saw that the chancellor being quoted was Frank Brogan. Hmmm….where did I know that name from? Reading on I saw that he was previously the chancellor for the State University System of Florida. Uh-oh.
Before I realized Mr. Brogan’s background, I read his comments regarding programs and availability at the PASSHE schools. Which was:
…the idea of having 14 independent universities that offer largely the same thing is an idea of the past and that campuses should put their resources toward their “unique” strengths and consider cutting or closing programs with low enrollment.
This is not good…on so many levels. But I will focus on one. Mr. Brogan needs to realize that Pennsylvania is not Florida. And he needs to do this quickly. If not he will fail. Well, the college students (and potential students) will be set up to fail rather. Since Mr. Brogan will still collect a nice paycheck regardless. But I digress.
Before I start getting too critical, I feel that the universities and colleges in the State University System of Florida offer a more efficient operation and more opportunity than PASSHE does. Even small things such as uniform course numbers and articulation agreements between community colleges and universities just made things so much easier as a college student in FL as opposed to in PA. The tuition at FL state universities is way lower as well. Did Mr. Brogan have a large claim in the credit to this, I honestly do not know. To be fair, I’ve also never been enrolled as a student at a PASSHE school; I just simply worked at a PASSHE school. So you are justified to say that I do not know what I am talking about.
But one thing I am certain of, PASSHE struggles for enrollment where as SUSF does not have to. The majority of PASSHE schools are in small towns or rural areas, where this is not the case with SUSF. SUSF has the advantage of having the flagship state universities on their roster while PASSHE does not.
His talk at Clarion was a familiar one; we need to focus on STEM, we need to give college students real-world vocational skills. I do not disagree with this. But I do question if these are responsibilities that we want to lay on the PASSHE schools. Many of these schools have more than a century of history and service. They have always been institutions that educate future teachers, social workers, nurses, and many more professions which are service based. They’ve had technical programs too…but none of them can compare to the science and engineering programs present at Pennsylvania’s leading research institutions. It just is what it is. You can’t just come in and try to turn these schools into something that they are not.
Access is also an issue. Like I said earlier, I never enrolled at a PASSHE school. However two of my sisters have; one at Edinboro and the other at Slippery Rock. Neither of them had their own car on campus. Needless to say, many hours were spent on the highway shuttling them from campus to home. Thankfully both me and my mother have reliable cars that can make the trip. But we are on that cusp. Plenty of my sister’s peers dropped out of college because their parents did not have cars and it just became too much to be so far from home and no cheap means to travel back and forth. Pittsburgh has no PASSHE school that offers undergraduate programs in the city (feel free to correct me if I am wrong, I know that IUP offers graduate programs in nearby Monroeville). Philadelphia does have Cheyney, which as a Historically Black College and University is not a first pick for the majority of high school seniors. Anyone with knowledge about where the majority of the population lives in Pennsylvania can look at a map of the PASSHE schools, and see that they do not coincide. Again, this differs from the SUSF schools, who are situated in strategic locations around Florida, with a presence of at least one institution in every major population area in the state, with each region of the state being served.
My heart goes out to the graduating high school seniors in Pennsylvania…it really does. PASSHE is the most affordable option to them in regards to 4-year post-secondary education. It never has been the answer for all college-bound seniors (many top high school graduates opt to pay more money and seek admission into Pitt, Penn State or Temple). But they have been a good choice for many. Now Mr. Brogan is planning for initiatives that will lessen the appeal of PASSHE schools even more than what they already have had to deal with previously. The only way that Mr. Brogan’s plans would be good is if these new savings and efficiencies could be translated over into lower tuition rates. I know that this is almost guaranteed not to happen. But it is worth mentioning; especially since PA is one of the worst states in regards to student loan debt.
I’ll keep my eye out for more positive news on this. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.