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Pa. state university system releases plan to merge six schools, with a vote expected Wednesday

Six schools would be merged into two entities, but keep their individual campuses. The move should save the system $18.4 million over five years, and put it on a path to financial sustainability.

Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.Read moreCommonwealth Media Services

By merging six of its 14 universities into two new entities, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education estimates it can save $18.4 million after five years and put the schools on a path to growth and financial sustainability, according to nearly 400 pages of planning documents released Monday.

The savings would come through leadership, management, and support staff reductions phased in over time.

“It is the beginning of the journey, and one, through the experience of building the work included here, that we have every confidence will be successful,” Chancellor Daniel Greenstein wrote.

A vote from the board of governors on whether to proceed with the plan is expected Wednesday, with opposition mounting in some corners. Approval would kick off a 60-day public comment period, with a final vote scheduled for this summer and implementation in fall 2022.

Under the plans released as part of the board’s meeting agenda, Bloomsburg, Mansfield, and Lock Haven universities would become one new entity and California, Clarion, and Edinboro in Western Pennsylvania would become another. All six campuses would remain open and report to one of two leadership teams with integrated enrollment strategies, curriculum, and faculty.

The statewide faculty union said in a statement Monday that it is “reading the plans carefully — through a lens that keeps student concerns at the forefront” and making sure the plans comply with state law.

» READ MORE: Plans for Pa. university mergers continue

At a board meeting earlier this month, Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties, said faculty question how much really will be saved, whether the plans will cost more to implement and what the true cost savings for students will be. They also are asking whether students will have options for majors they want on each campus without having to rely on online courses. And they are concerned about the loss of brand, she said.

“Less than 8% of the faculty support the consolidation,” Martin said, citing results of a union-administered faculty survey in March that drew responses from nearly 1,000 faculty. “Only 7% believe that the process has been transparent, 63% of the faculty do not believe the curriculum array will reflect their work, and only 2% believe that their students are excited about the consolidation.”

Faculty at Lock Haven are calling on alumni to attend a Zoom meeting Tuesday night to help save the university from merger.

“The faculty are alarmed at the impact of the consolidation or merger on the future of education in north central Pennsylvania,” Peter Campbell, chair of the sports studies department at Lock Haven, said in a news release announcing the meeting.

» READ MORE: Major change could be coming for Pennsylvania’s state universities

But Greenstein has warned that without the consolidations, the system, which operates on a $1.6 billion budget, could face dissolution or have to close some campuses. The move comes as the system has seen its enrollment drop 21% over the last decade.

More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff were involved in creating the merger plans, one for the Northeast group including Bloomsburg and the other for the West group including California.

There would be initial costs to achieve the mergers, and there are risks and benefits associated with almost every step of the move, according to the plans.

Each of the six campuses would keep their name in some form. But the two new entities would each take on another name, which would pose public relations risks, “such as marketing confusion and negative stakeholder reactions,” according to the Northeast report.

The plans, which look at virtually every area of operation, including technology, finance, physical plant, and legal considerations, do not detail how many positions or employees are expected to be lost through the consolidation.

The system is proposing that each of the six campuses retains its sports teams, but is awaiting approval from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. “Athletics are at the core of these deeply rooted and honored local and regional traditions,” the Northeast report said.

The goal will be to reduce the cost of a degree for students by 25% through “expanded program availability, high school dual enrollments, lower student fees, additional fund-raising achievements,” and other factors.

Nothing would really change for donors, who would continue to give to the campus or program of their choice, the report said. And students would see no impact to financial aid or scholarships.

The board will take public comment at its meeting Wednesday before voting.