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Pennsylvania college system asks for ‘historic’ funding increase

(By Christen Smith – The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education will ask the Legislature for $550 million in funding next year as it continues its massive redesign amid dwindling enrollment.

PASSHE Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said Thursday the request is vital the organization’s “future and mission.”

“It reflects what our data modeling shows will be needed for the PASSHE institutions to operate effectively while remaining affordable, one of our primary goals,” she said.

PASSHE, which manages 14 universities that serve 93,000 students, began experiencing financial strain more than a decade ago as reduced state funding forced tuition spikes and declines in enrollment. Smaller schools in the state’s eastern and western regions experienced disproportionate amounts of loss, placing further strain on the system’s more popular universities. 

The system’s enrollment peaked at 112,000 in 2010, and state funding at the time exceeded $503 million. In the decade since, enrollment declined 31% across 12 of the 14 universities, with about 95,000 students attending in 2019. State funding dipped more than $90 million through 2015, though it’s since climbed back up to $477.5 million over the past six years.

“Public higher education is the keystone of Pennsylvania’s economy and one of the most reliable pathways for social mobility,” said PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein. “We have a responsibility to our students and the Commonwealth to open this pathway even further.”

That’s why the PASSHE board approved the multi-year $100 million integration plan in July that combines California, Clarion, and Edinboro universities into one institution – called Pennsylvania Western University, according to PennLive – and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield into another. The respective schools will keep their individual campuses and identities, the board said, while expanding academic offerings and supports.

The board said Thursday saving the system from financial ruin will keep more graduates in Pennsylvania – an ongoing challenge lawmakers have grappled with for decades.

Data parsed by PASSHE analysis shows that 71% of state system students remain in Pennsylvania three years after graduation, while 63% remain in state a decade later.

“Fulfilling this request would send a clear signal that the Commonwealth wants to invest in every current and potential student – the future workforce that will drive Pennsylvania’s economy,” said Shapira.

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