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Integration plans for board consideration this spring

Contact: Dave Pidgeon, (717) 562-3418 or dpidgeon@passhe.edu

Integrating six universities into two entities would expand student opportunities, ​improve affordability

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Momentum is building toward successfully integrating multiple universities​ as a means of expanding student opportunities thanks to the work of more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and volunteers, Chancellor Dan Greenstein told Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education Board of Governors at its quarterly meeting Thursday.

Planning has involved 19 working groups and 216 subgroups thus far in the effort to integrate California, Clarion, and Edinboro universities in Western Pennsylvania and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities in Northeastern Pennsylvania into two multi-campus institutions. The System is moving toward its next milestone – the presentation of implementation plans to the Board at its April meeting.

“The dedication and belief of so many colleagues – students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and so many more – is inspiring and propels us toward our ultimate purpose, which is to create integrated institutions that expand student opportunities and set the stage for enrollment growth,” Greenstein said.

“The challenges confronting higher education in the United States and right here in the Commonwealth require the kind of creative and bold thinking we’re seeing from the working groups,” Board chair Cindy Shapira said. “The solutions we’re pursuing will support students and the communities in which our universities operate for years to come.”

Each of the two integrated entities would have a single administration, faculty cohort, enrollment management strategy, academic program array, and budget while also maintaining local institutional identity, athletics, student housing, campus life, and critical student supports at all three campuses. 

“Our campuses get to keep so much of what matters to us – our identity, our athletic teams, the campus experience, and more – while at the same time benefitting from the scale that integration creates,” said Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, president of Clarion University, interim President of Edinboro University, and leader of the western integration effort. “Our dedicated and knowledgeable teams work on this every day, and every day it just makes more and more sense.”

While much work remains, among the paths being pursued are opening access to academic programs across three campuses while maintaining a robust program array at each campus and maintaining current athletic complements at each. The integrations effort seeks to expand reach into new markets and is looking at a variety of creative ways to significantly reduce the total cost a student incurs acquiring a degree.

The integration team is expected to submit preliminary implementation plans to the Board in April, and if approved, those plans will be subject to a public comment period lasting 60 days. The Board will then review the public comments and consider final implementation plans as early as July, which would mean the first cohort of students to enroll in an integrated university is the Fall Semester of 2022.

In other action, the Board selected Dr. Bashar Hanna, president of Bloomsburg University, to serve as interim president of Lock Haven University starting February 5.

Dr. Hanna will continue to serve as president of Bloomsburg, a position he’s held since 2017. He also is part of the leadership team overseeing integration efforts among Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield.

“Dr. Hanna’s expertise has guided Bloomsburg and the entire integrations effort with great skill and with a sharp focus on student success,” Shapira said. “He has our full confidence as a leader of two campuses and as someone who can bring constituencies together in the common purpose of quality, affordable public higher education.”

Hanna succeeds President Robert Pignatello, who is joining the Office of the Chancellor as Senior Advisor for Integration Strategy focusing on workforce development and short-term credentials.

“We’re lucky to have at the State System the kind of high caliber leadership Dr. Hanna and Dr. Pignatello possess,” Greenstein said. “I look forward to continuing our work together toward the success of public higher education in the region.”

The Board also extended the appointment of Aaron Walton as president of Cheyney University. Walton's term, which was scheduled to conclude on June 30, 2021, will now run until June 30, 2024.

“The work Aaron has done at Cheyney since 2017 is nothing short of extraordinary,” Greenstein said. “We believe it’s important for his team to continue to lead Cheyney as it fulfills its historic mission and transforms into an institution its students, alumni, staff, faculty, and trustees can be proud of.”

Under Walton’s leadership, Cheyney reaffirmed its accreditation with Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is growing enrollments, achieving greater financial sustainability, and forming creative public-private partnerships to boost student success.

The Board also approved a measure that will build a small strategic investment fund that will help position the System to invest in initiatives that will improve outcomes for all our students.

Specifically, the State System will take advantage of low interest rates by issuing a bond to help fund its pension obligations through the State Employee Retirement System (SERS). SERS will then reinvest those funds with expected annual returns above the debt obligation, providing an opportunity for the State System to save an estimated cumulative present value of $280 million over thirty years.

“Our participation in SERS is a promise to employees to, when they retire, honor the service they provided to students and their campuses,” Shapira said. “We see an opportunity to meet those responsibilities while also taking advantage of tremendous cost saving opportunities.”

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education oversees 14 four-year public universities educating more than 93,000 students. The State System offers more than 2,300 degrees and certificates in more than 530 academic areas. The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester universities of Pennsylvania.