State System students, faculty, staff, alumni visit Capitol seeking support for universities

Annual ‘Advocacy Day’ program highlights schools’ contributions to Pennsylvania’s future

Contact: Kenn Marshall, (717) 720-4054

​Harrisburg – Students, faculty, staff and alumni from all 14 universities that comprise Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education visited the Capitol today, meeting with legislators and their staff to seek support for their schools.

The group—nearly 150 strong—delivered a simple message: “Support for the State System is support for the future of Pennsylvania!”

“We want to better our lives—for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities,” Joar Dahn, a student at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, said during a brief gathering of the group on the steps of the Capitol’s main rotunda. “The State System provides the opportunity for every student, regardless of where we are from or what our family background is, to achieve success and upward mobility.”

Dahn, a senior political science major at Bloomsburg, will graduate next month. He has served as president of both the Community Government Association and African Student Association at BU, and is president of the Class of 2019. For the past year he has been one of three students serving on the State System’s Board of Governors.

Calling it a “tremendous experience,” Dahn said, “While not every student in the System will serve on the Board, it is the kind of opportunity that is abundant at each of our 14 universities. We have so many opportunities to learn and grow outside of the classroom—in the real world.”

State System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein opened the Advocacy Day event surrounded by many of the day’s participants.

“As you can see, I brought a few of my friends with me,” Greenstein said, gesturing to those around him. “These are students, faculty, staff, alumni, and leaders from the 14 State System universities. They traveled here today from all corners of the state to encourage support for the State System. It’s an important cause, and one that is vital to the future of Pennsylvania.”

The annual Advocacy Day program give supporters of the state-owned universities the opportunity to share their personal experiences and to talk about the valuable contributions the universities make to their communities, their regions and the Commonwealth.

Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson got right to the point during her remarks as she stood in the rotunda.

“Students in Pennsylvania have a lot of choices, and a lot of them choose the State System,” Pehrsson said. “Did you know that almost 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded each year in Pennsylvania are awarded by a State System university? Did you know that since the System was founded in 1983, our universities have awarded more than 700,000 degrees and certificates—the vast majority to residents of Pennsylvania? Did you know 95 percent of our alumni are either employed or in graduate school?  We’re making sure our future graduates are prepared for success.”

The vast majority of State System graduates not only are working in Pennsylvania, they are working in high-demand fields.

“STEM-H degrees are sky-rocketing, with an increase of 69 percent over the past 10 years, and they now make up the most popular areas of study,” said Nicolle Mayo, a professor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, referring to degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and healthcare.

“This is what we have been working so hard to achieve,” Mayo said. “We need to continue improving our State System for the betterment of our students and future communities. We need to work cohesively, efficiently and provide consistent support.”

The universities’ efforts to produce a well-educated, well-prepared workforce have been noticed by employers.

“As an alumnus of Millersville University—and a current university trustee—I’m grateful for the education I received and the opportunity my degree provided me when I left as a graduate so many years ago,” said Michael Warfel, a vice president for Highmark Inc. “As a representative of one of the state’s major healthcare companies, I’m also grateful not only to Millersville, but to the entire State System. These universities are responsible for producing a large portion of our workforce at Highmark.”

In fact, more than 20 executives at Highmark Health and Highmark Inc., are graduates of State System universities, according to Warfel.

“That’s a pretty impressive number, and that includes only those at the top echelon of the two companies. There are many, many more at various ranks across the companies,” he said. “I’m sure we’re not unique. There are countless companies—big and small— across Pennsylvania who employ State System university graduates. With more than 500,000 alumni living in the state, the State System is a major contributor to our economy.”

The State System is seeking a 2019-20 state appropriation of $505.8 million, an increase of $37.7 million over the current year’s funding level to ensure continued access to and affordability of a high-quality education for the citizens of the Commonwealth. Governor Wolf has proposed an appropriation of $475.1 million, an increase of approximately $7 million. The new budget is required to be approved by June 30, to take effect July 1.

“Today, our message is simple: We need your support to keep the State System the affordable, high-quality option that it is,” Greenstein said. “It matters. It really does.”

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education oversees 14 four-year public universities educating more than 90,000 students across the Commonwealth. The State System offers more than 2,300 degrees and certificates in more than 530 academic areas.