Pennsylvania System Surprises With New Integration Proposal

Clarion, California and Edinboro Universities in western Pennsylvania are now marked for affiliation.

September 15, 2020
 
Courtesy of California University of Pennsylvania

Three Pennsylvania universities announced Monday they are forming a partnership that would alter consolidation proposals put forward by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education chancellor in July.

Clarion University, California University and Edinboro University -- all located in the western part of the state -- will affiliate, they announced Monday.

It’s unclear exactly what that affiliation will look like. In July, Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of PASSHE, proposed integrating three pairs of colleges: California with Clarion, Edinboro with Slippery Rock University and Lock Haven University with Mansfield University. The system has since avoided calling any of the potential integrations mergers but has said that the colleges will in some way consolidate academic programs and reduce expenses for the system.

Greenstein said in July that the integration plans were subject to change based on the results of a review process that would examine the financial impact of sharing leadership, faculty and staff, enrollment management strategies, reporting lines and budgets at each group of colleges.

Asked whether the new plan to integrate Clarion, California and Edinboro is more certain than the proposals from the summer, Dave Pidgeon, a PASSHE spokesperson, left the door open to further changes.

“A three-university integration is something we’re exploring thoroughly, but we remain open to wherever the data and analysis lead us,” he wrote in an email. “Preliminarily, the data pointed to a three-university integration as providing the scale necessary to achieve the goals.”

For years, PASSHE has struggled to remain in good financial health. The redesign process is a long-awaited attempt to reach financial sustainability in a state with declining enrollment across the board, and cost savings will be an integral part of any possible merger or partnership.

PASSHE declined to provide any details about the three-college partnership. Instead, Greenstein released a statement.

“The goal of university integrations is to expand opportunities for students beyond those a single school can achieve on its own. We’ve been clear since the start -- the data and analysis will ultimately drive us toward the right combination of universities. Today, after carefully reviewing initial data, we’ve seen clearly that integrating three universities into a single entity provides the best opportunity for students and for the future success of public higher education in critically important economic regions of Pennsylvania,” the statement said. “We remain at the start of a historic effort meant to honor the traditions and identities of each participating university while ensuring they continue into the future as engines of social mobility and economic development. We look forward to consulting with campus stakeholders, local community leaders, and elected officials across the state in the weeks and months to come.”

The financial review data cited by Greenstein, Pidgeon and various system communications have not been made public.

Monday's announcement was unexpected, said Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, a union that represents many PASSHE faculty members and coaches. Martin said she's unsure how adding Edinboro to the mix furthers the system’s goals.

“We were surprised to see that announcement come out,” Martin said. “It’s rather premature, even by the chancellor’s own timeline.”

Martin and her colleagues had been waiting to see the expected financial benefits of the potential integrations proposed in July. She expects the system will still release that information. According to a timeline on PASSHE’s website, the financial review will wrap up in October, and implementation plans for any college integrations will be developed between October and April.

It is unclear what Monday’s announcement means for the other three colleges in the redesign process: Slippery Rock, Lock Haven and Mansfield.

Peter Kuvshinikov, president of the Edinboro University Faculty Senate, said in an email that while there are still many details to work out, "the faculty looks forward to any potential outcomes that would further strengthen Edinboro University and the students it serves."

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