The two largest universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education — West Chester and Indiana — were singled out for special attention in House Bill 2171, which is meant to reorganize PASSHE.
Among the provisions in the bill now awaiting Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature is this clause: “The board (of governors of the state system) shall develop policies and procedures by which the board may create, expand, consolidate, transfer or affiliate an institution, except for an institution with a fall 2019 headcount enrollment greater than 10,000 students.”
Total enrollment at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for fall 2019 was 10,636, including 10,348 students in degree-seeking programs (2,069 in graduate programs) and 288 students enrolled in career preparation programs.
Total enrollment at West Chester University of Pennsylvania for fall 2019 was 17,669, including 14,615 undergraduate students and 3,054 in graduate programs.
Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester County, minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said his biggest fear was any reorganization legislation that would lessen the academic and financial strength of West Chester, which is located in his district, by forcing its affiliation with other institutions.
On the other end of the commonwealth, state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said the bill recognized that IUP and West Chester are “kind of the anchors of the system,” as the largest and most stable financially of the 14 PASSHE institutions.
“We worked collaboratively on that,” Pittman said. “I worked primarily with Sen. (Robert M.) Tomlinson (R-Bucks County) and Sen. (Scott) Martin (R-Lancaster County). The 14 schools are pretty diverse and we are looking for a way to recognize the fact that they’re all in different situations of stability.”
Tomlinson is a West Chester University alum and trustee; Martin is a member of the PASSHE Board of Governors. Also involved was Senate Education Committee Majority Chairman Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Johnstown.
“We were certainly in conversation with legislators as they had questions and concerns,” PASSHE spokesman Dave Pidgeon said. “We were in support of the bill, even as it was amended. We were certainly in close contact with the legislature as the bill was moving through.”
Otherwise, HB 2171 would give the PASSHE Board of Governors the power to create, expand, consolidate, transfer or affiliate member schools. PASSHE Chancellor Dr. Dan Greenstein would be required to conduct a thorough review of an institution and prepare a detailed implementation plan for any changes to system schools.
The bill would also require shared services among all member universities when the system can show savings and efficiencies, unless member schools opt out by a two-thirds vote of the Council of Trustees.
Furthermore, the bill read, “this subsection shall not be construed to include the power to close an institution.”
The bill passed the state Senate, 47-3, then the House concurred in the Senate’s amendments, 201-0. It was not known when the governor would act upon that bill.
“The legislation was quite significant,” Pittman said. “The State System is in a difficult situation, and that situation has been compounded by the current pandemic. It was important for us to give the board of governors more latitude to make the system as a whole more efficient, while recognizing the status of IUP and West Chester.”
Dinniman said the amendment was drafted in consultation with several stakeholders, including West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino; the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF), whose new president Dr. Jamie Martin is from IUP; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
On the Senate floor, Dinniman read a letter from APSCUF that said in part, “We strongly urge you to support House Bill 2171 as amended.”
IUP officials deferred comment to Pidgeon.
“This is as profound a change that the state system has experienced since it was created in 1982,” said the PASSHE spokesman, who said students, parents and other adults “are going to be looking to us now and in the years to come” for quality and affordable education.
“Quality and affordability has to be balanced,” Pidgeon continued. “This can help us to achieve that balance better perhaps than we’ve ever been able to before.”