Toting a backpack and sometimes riding a bike, Daniel Greenstein spent some of the fall visiting Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities, which he was hired last year to oversee.
He talked to students. He talked to faculty. He talked to staff. And on Wednesday, the new chancellor unveiled his vision: The schools must start operating more like a system, consolidate business and administrative operations to save precious dollars, and open courses on all campuses to all students.
Those moves and others, Greenstein said, are critical to the long-term survival of the system, beleaguered for nearly a decade by dropping enrollment, less state revenue, and ever-tightening finances.
“I’m not talking about making modest adjustments to our enterprise,” Greenstein, 58, said in an address to the State System of Higher Education board of governors, faculty and student leaders, university presidents, and campus supporters. “We won’t tweak our way out of this.”
Total student enrollment for the 14 state universities is at about 98,000. The largest school in the system is West Chester University with 17,552 students; the smallest is Cheyney University with 469.
Just how consolidation would occur and how much money it would save are among the details that need to be worked out in coming months through meetings with faculty and staff, Greenstein said. He hopes to have a plan ready in six to nine months.
His framework also takes into account reports from several groups of faculty and staff that have been looking at redesigning aspects of the system since it received a 2017 report from a consultant recommending changes.
With the support of the universities, Greenstein would like to open up every course on every campus to all students, no matter which university they are enrolled in. That would mean that students who enrolled at one school would receive a catalog with course offerings on all the campuses.
It also means a system of universities that have largely competed with one another would begin sharing faculty, staff, and students.
Much of the cross-campus course-taking likely would happen through distance learning, because the schools are spread across the state. But some of the schools, like West Chester and Cheyney — the system’s historically black university — aren’t far from one another, and students might be able to attend class in person.
Some students in certain programs already take classes at universities other than the one they are enrolled at, but Greenstein said in an interview before his address, “If we’re really responsive to the needs of our students, let’s make our full depth [of courses] available to everyone.”
Other universities in the system are Bloomsburg, California, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock.
Greenstein, who earns $380,000 annually, came to the system from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he had been a senior adviser. Before that, the University of Pennsylvania graduate served as a vice provost in the University of California system, which is more than twice the size of Pennsylvania’s.
In his address, he also proposed a greater focus on adult education, student retention, and partnerships with private enterprise.
“We must explore a whole new generation of public-private partnerships in virtually every aspect of our enterprise, and ramp up and professionalize our fund-raising efforts, building whole new revenue streams,” Greenstein said.
He also said the system must work with private and state-related universities and community colleges to find solutions to the struggle with enrollment that higher education is experiencing, given the drop in the number of high school graduates.
“The limits of what we can accomplish are the limits of our imagination,” he said.