A coalition of liberal think tanks say a proposed consolidation of six Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities into two regional bodies would impact all 14 PASSHE universities — with the worst cutbacks happening at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which isn’t involved in either consolidation.
Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, and Michael Ash of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst said their study lays bare the disastrous effects of what PASSHE calls the integration of California, Clarion and Edinboro universities in the west and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities in the northeast.
“Enrollment at PASSHE schools has been driven down by one of the highest tuition rates in the country,” Stier said during a Tuesday conference call. “Historically, PASSHE schools have been engines of upward mobility for first-generation college students but, in the past two decades, as fewer working people have been able to afford tuition, more PASSHE enrollment comes from affluent families.”
They said there would be 1,532 full-time positions eliminated, “most in counties with poverty rates of 12 to 17 percent.”
They said that would include cuts of nearly 30 percent of faculty and 26 percent of employment at California-Clarion-Edinboro, and 20 percent of faculty and total employment at Bloomsburg-Lock Haven-Mansfield. They also said those cuts and their spillover effects will have a substantial negative impact on the Pennsylvania economy.
Keystone Research Center Executive Director Stephen Herzenberg, another participant in that Tuesday conference call, said IUP would face the largest employment cut, of 383 people, or 44 percent of the average number of annual mass layoffs in Indiana County between 2010 and 2012, what he termed “a slow growth, high-layoff period.”
Their study was released a day before a special meeting of the PASSHE Board of Governors regarding the proposed university integrations, scheduled online today at 8:30 a.m.
“Because the integration plans preserve on-campus classes, housing, student activities and other operations at all six campuses,” PASSHE Director of Public Relations David Pidgeon said in response to the study, “we are confident their host communities will continue to benefit from a positive economic impact.”
When asked for comment, IUP Executive Director of Media Relations Michelle Fryling referred inquiries to Pidgeon.
“The integration plans under consideration, if approved, mean these institutions can better serve students, can continue their historic missions, and can better support regions where they’ve operated as economic drivers for more than a century — doing more together than any one institution can do alone,” Pidgeon said. “Successful integrations will mean students would have access to the expertise, guidance, and insights from more faculty than they now have as they pursue their degrees at an integrated university.”
The study’s proponents disagree.
“The cuts are very large — on par with plant closures and shift eliminations that have already greatly harmed Pennsylvania and will further reduce opportunity for the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Ash said. “The regions closest to the PASSHE universities will experience especially large effects of the PASSHE employment reductions.”
Herzenberg’s comments referred to the recent “Imagine Unlimited” fundraising drive at IUP.
“Many people in non-faculty positions will be unlikely to find other good union jobs, with family-supporting wages and benefits,” the Keystone Research Center director said.
“This is not the way to reimagine Indiana County — or any other Pennsylvania county.”
The action regarding the six universities is the only business scheduled, other than a resolution honoring departing student members of the Board of Governors, including Alex Fefolt, who is graduating from IUP with bachelor’s degrees in history and political science.
The agenda called that action “Consideration of institutional integration plans for the purpose of initiating 60-day public comment period,” with 234 pages of details of those integration plans attached.
“University integrations recommended here are a bold and innovative response to demographic, funding, and other challenges confronting higher education nationally and which are particularly acute in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” according to an executive summary in that attachment.
“A major part of a more comprehensive System Redesign launched in 2016 by the Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, integrations provide a path for the State System’s 14 universities to continue fulfilling their historic mission of providing affordable, high-quality public higher education for all Pennsylvanians well into the 21st century and serving as engines of economic development and social mobility.”
If the board approves the plans, Pidgeon said, the board may consider final implementation following that 60-day public comment period.