The state of the system is fluid, and it is at a turning point in the coming year, Chancellor Dr. Daniel Greenstein told the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education at its quarterly meeting Wednesday at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.
“This year, with our partners, the General Assembly, we will decide the course of public higher education in this commonwealth,” Greenstein said as he made an initial argument for a 2 percent increase in general appropriations, plus part of what would help pay for a five-year System Redesign plan.
“I am more inspired now than ever before about our mission … and more optimistic,” Greenstein said to officials of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the 13 other state-owned universities after “499 days of employment” as the system’s chief executive.
Specifically, PASSHE will ask Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers for $487 million in appropriations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, plus a separate $20 million investment.
The former would be an increase from $477.47 million for fiscal 2019-20, but it still would be less than the $505.8 million the state universities sought for the current fiscal year.
The latter is part of a five-year, $100 million project approved by the system’s governors in October at a quarterly meeting at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in Berks County.
In an address carried over the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Greenstein said the Keystone State ranks 48th in the nation in funding higher education. He said it is a public policy choice that had been made by elected leaders for years, leading to higher tuition, levels of student debt, and struggles to attract public and private investment.
“This can has been kicked down the road for many years,” he said. “Let me confirm. There is no more road. The State System bears responsibility for this, yes. But our elected state leaders share that responsibility, and so we ask our partners to collaborate with us, to support our efforts and set this State System up for Pennsylvania’s success.”
That $100 million request over the next five years is meant to transform PASSHE’s information technology, potential online education and other office functions by leveraging the system’s massive scale. PASSHE officials project that the effort would lead to $80 million to $120 million in cost savings alone over the next decade.
The chancellor talked of his vision for 2020, including how students at one university can access courses and programs elsewhere in the system. That vision also includes execution of budget plans to ensure all 14 universities are financially sustainable in five years, and measuring progress in meeting student and university goals.
The state system’s enrollment has been declining in recent years, to where today there are approximately 95,000 students, including some 11,300 students at IUP, where enrollment has declined by 26 percent in the past seven years. IUP remains the second-largest state university, topped only by West Chester University near Philadelphia. Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira introduced Greenstein. She said 2020 began “with some real momentum” in the wake of a system review process begun in 2016 “full of challenges” and full of obstacles, both internal and external.
“Transformative change is not a one-time action item,” Shapira told her fellow governors.
“It requires commitment that stretches years into the future. It requires honesty, vision and leaders to inspire the work of others toward that vision.”