A senior adviser at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — the philanthropic organization that has doled out millions to spur improvement in higher education — was selected Monday to lead Pennsylvania's 14-university state system as it continues on a path of redesign amid falling enrollment and tighter finances.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's board of governors voted unanimously to hire Daniel Greenstein, who led the post-secondary-success strategy at the Seattle-based foundation for six years before leaving in March to become a senior adviser.
Greenstein, 57, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, previously served as a vice provost in the University of California system, which is more than twice the size of Pennsylvania's system. He will replace Karen M. Whitney, who took over as interim chancellor following the resignation of Frank T. Brogan last summer.
"He is the perfect fit to lead the state system as we move forward with the redesign," said Cynthia Shapira, chairwoman of the system's Board of Governors.
In September, he will take the helm of the 102,000-student Pennsylvania system, which is coping with declining enrollment and searching for more state funding. Enrollment has dropped by nearly 17,000 students, or 14 percent, since 2010.
In an interview, Greenstein declined to specify his plans for the system or say at what point he would consider closures or mergers. But he has previously opined on the difficult conditions facing higher education and the need for bold change.
"That college you have your eye on for your teenager? It may be going out of business. Your alma mater, too," he wrote in a December 2013 piece in Inside Higher Education.
At the Gates Foundation, Greenstein worked on initiatives to increase college-degree attainment and reduce the attainment gap for minority students. He said he stepped away from that role having accomplished what he set out to do.
"I am the kind of guy who comes in and builds things or fixes things that need some help," he said in the interview.
He left no doubt that he will work toward helping the state system achieve the same goals.
"Let me be crystal clear," he said in a statement, "I do mean all of our students; regardless of zip code or background, all must and all will have an opportunity to succeed."
The seven-month search for a new chancellor began last fall and was overseen by an eight-member search committee, co-chaired by Shapira and Harold C. Shields, vice chair.
Universities in the system include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester.
Greenstein, who will earn $380,000 annually, will oversee a system with varying success among its members. Cheyney, a historically black university, is among the state schools that have struggled financially; the university had been in danger of losing its accreditation, but got a reprieve last fall and is making changes under new leadership. Nearby West Chester University has been one of the most successful schools in the system and continues to grow.
Greenstein said he was excited about the opportunity to find a way to help Cheyney succeed and pointed to Paul Quinn College, a historically black school in Dallas, as one example of a successful turnaround. Paul Quinn is a "work college" where every student works on- or off-campus jobs for 10 to 15 hours a week to help pay tuition, keeping the price tag affordable.
A study of the state system universities commissioned by the system last year recommended no closure or merger of campuses, but suggested consolidation and staff reductions for schools with the greatest enrollment declines and budget gaps, an overhaul in the system's governance, and more stable and stronger leadership at the universities.
A subsequent review commissioned by the state legislature, however, called for more drastic restructuring, including possibly reducing the number of schools to as few as five to eight.
Greenstein got his bachelor's in history at the University of Pennsylvania, studied at the London School of Economics, and got his doctorate in social studies from Oxford University. He began his academic career in 1989 as a senior lecturer in modern history at Glasgow University in Scotland. In 1999, he became executive director of the Digital Library Federation in Washington and moved to the University of California system in 2002.
There, he oversaw academic planning, programs, and coordination, and had a leadership role in the system's aggressive online venture, which struggled to raise enough seed money from foundations or other private sources. That system, like Pennsylvania, has faced budget woes and cutbacks, some during Greenstein's tenure.