One hundred days. It’s not a long time, but it is long enough to get a feel for a place. Coming from Florida, my family and I have been struck by the beauty and diversity of Pennsylvania, and by the warm and welcoming nature of the people.
We’ve always known the commonwealth to be the birthplace of our nation. However, since arriving, we’ve learned that it is also the birthplace of the nation’s first daily newspaper and first medical school … not to mention Jimmy Stewart and Hershey’s Chocolate.
As the new chancellor of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), 100 days is certainly long enough to understand the real impact our 14 public universities have on the culture and economy of their individual regions, and in the commonwealth as a whole.
The arrival of a new CEO is oftentimes accompanied by over-the-top proclamations and hard-to-deliver commitments, but I wanted my first 100 days to be different. For me, this time has been an opportunity to visit each of our remarkable institutions and talk with their talented students, faculty and staff. Those visits affirmed my belief that we have extraordinary people doing extraordinary work, oftentimes in the face of serious challenges.
Even with lagging state support and fluctuating enrollments due to the commonwealth’s changing population, our universities are finding ways to do more with less — something every Pennsylvanian has learned to do.
PASSHE is reinventing itself to meet the ever-changing workforce needs of the commonwealth. The universities have been doing that for a while now — working in partnership with employers to develop and expand programs in areas such as nursing and allied health, energy production, advanced technology and software and computer engineering.
We must not only maintain that momentum, we must do more to be nimble and responsive to emerging workforce needs.
And while fiscal challenges aren’t going away anytime soon, they cannot be allowed to paralyze our mission. We must maintain our focus on how to best serve our students, today and in the future.
We must ensure all of our students receive a quality educational experience that prepares them for a career or further education, whether studying on campus or online. We must be accountable to our students and the commonwealth and ensure that both realize a return on investment. We will provide our students — and their future employers — a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills that a PASSHE graduate will have when they walk across the stage at commencement.
To accomplish these things, and more, we will challenge the basic assumptions and ask the tough questions. We must be willing to retain the best of our past and organize ourselves to prepare for a very different future.
The benefit of having a well-coordinated university system, such as PASSHE, is that institutions can achieve more working collectively than by working separately. A high-quality system will raise the quality of each individual institution within it. Just look around the country: most of the top 10 public universities are also part of great systems.
The board of governors celebrates the unique strengths of each PASSHE institution and seeks to leverage those strengths to benefit the whole system. Our universities will expand shared business and support services when beneficial — freeing up money to enhance the academic enterprise. At the same time, the universities will work together with the system to reduce unnecessary program duplication and increase programming that responds to the demands of both students and employers. These are not just good ideas, they are essential.
Working together — with a balance of local decision making and system coordination — we will find innovative ways to overcome the fiscal challenges. Together, we will reinforce the state system’s national reputation as a leader in accountability. And, together, we will enrich the student experience by elevating the quality and prominence of each university. Pennsylvania and its citizens deserve nothing less.
Frank T. Brogan began as chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in October. Prior to that, he held the same position at the State University System of Florida.