Clarion University Responds to Post-Gazette Article on Possible Mergers, Closures of State System Schools

clarion-universityHARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – Two top State System leaders delivered a positive, yet problematic annual “State of the System” address earlier today.

State System leaders Chancellor Frank T. Brogan and Board of Governors Chair Cynthia D. Shapira indicated that the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education experienced a series of both highs and lows in 2016. Acknowledging significant accomplishments on behalf of students, the leaders realize the system faced significant challenges along the way.

They projected that 2017 will be a “pivotal” one for the State System and its 14 universities.

Chancellor Brogan Lists Series of Accomplishments

frank brogan

On a positive note, Chancellor Brogan (pictured above) listed a series of the State System’s accomplishments and actions, included the following:

– The System signed a first-of-its kind statewide reverse transfer agreement with Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges last year that will help students achieve their first college degree.

– The Board of Governors approved several new policy initiatives that will directly benefit students by strengthening the universities’ general education requirements, helping them stay on track toward timely graduation, and ensuring the relevancy of their degrees.

Commonwealth Provides State System with Second Consecutive Increase in Funding

The State System also received a second consecutive increase in funding from the Commonwealth, helping to ensure the universities remain affordable to students and their families.

“That couldn’t have happened without the hard work and advocacy of so many,” Brogan said during his part of the address. “No doubt, there’s a long way to go in that regard, but we are very thankful for the state’s efforts to keep higher education affordable.”

With almost 90 percent of State System students being Pennsylvania residents, and the vast majority remaining here after graduation to live, work, and raise their families, Brogan explained, “We know that investing in our public universities is an investment in Pennsylvania’s future.”

“Consider this: Our universities generate $11 of economic impact for every dollar of public support they receive. That is a remarkable turnaround, and one we should be proud of.”

Brogan Recognizes Outstanding Work of Faculty

The chancellor recognized the outstanding work of faculty and their contributions to ensuring the universities continue to meet the other component of their primary mission of providing the highest quality education at the lowest possible cost.

“Faculty are the heart and soul of our institutions,” Brogan said. “They make a difference in our students’ lives every day. Their knowledge and dedication, their creativity, and, most of all, their commitment to the education of their students, are what make our universities special. They are what make a State System university education what it is.”

Shapira Praises Faculty and Staff

Shapira also praised the hard work and dedication of the faculty and staff at the 14 universities, urging them to “keep their eye on the prize” and continue to do the best they can on behalf of students.

“It should be the goal of each and every one of us to fully support our students from the moment they first arrive on campus until they walk across the graduation stage,” Shapira said.

“We want them not only to walk away with a degree, but also with a plan for their future that will help ensure a lifetime of success, not just for themselves, but for their families, their communities, and the entire commonwealth.”

State System Prepares to Launch In-Depth Strategic Review

The many successes of the past year came even as the universities faced unprecedented challenges. Responding to those challenges, the State System is preparing to launch an in-depth strategic review that could lead to significant changes in the way the 14-university system is organized and how it operates in the future.

“We will be taking a hard look at how we are organized today, and how we need to be organized in the future in order to continue to serve our students and the commonwealth as its public university system,” Brogan said.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting for someone else to do it. We are the people who have to have the courage to step up and sound the clarion call for change.”

“The year we just went through was perhaps the most challenging in the State System’s history,” said Shapira.

“Many of our universities are feeling the twin effects of declining revenues and enrollments. And, as daunting as those challenges have been, there is little doubt that 2017 will bring new and perhaps even greater challenges. In fact, I believe this year will be pivotal for the State System.”

State System Struggles with Declining State Support and Falling Enrollment

Like other public university systems across the nation, the State System has struggled for the better part of a decade with declining state support and falling enrollment.

Nationally, state funding to higher education has been reduced by nearly $3 billion since the beginning of the recession in 2008, while overall college enrollment has declined for five straight years.

Enrollment Loss Is Major Concern for System

Exacerbating matters was a sixth consecutive enrollment loss this fall. Enrollment that totaled nearly 120,000 students in 2010 dropped by 14,462 students or 12 percent, reducing the system’s headcount to a level not seen since 2003. Some individual campuses have seen losses at or above 30 percent, according to the Post Gazette.

Brogan said “efforts to align the universities’ offerings to student and workforce needs have led the State System schools to add 200 new minors, concentrations or certificates in recent years. But those schools that are facing rising costs have also discontinued 70 majors,” according to the report.

Enrollment over the last six years is off by 35 percent at Mansfield University; by 29 percent at Clarion and Edinboro universities; by 23 percent at Lock Haven University; by 21 percent at Kutztown University and by 20 percent at Cal U, according to the Post-Gazette.

Chancellor Brogan Discusses Options to Combat Issues, Including Merger, Closure of Institutions

Most states, including Pennsylvania, have begun restoring some of the funding cuts brought about by the recession, but still have a long way to go. The State System has received increased funding in each of the last two years, but the current year’s appropriation is still about $60 million less than the amount it received in the year before the recession began.

“Other states are wrestling with the same issues we are, leading to the reorganization of public university systems in many states around the country — including the merger or even closure of institutions,” Brogan said. “Is that where we are headed? That’s a question I can’t answer today, nor can anyone else. But it is a question we have to ask and we have to answer — this year, not in the future — because this System and our universities are essential to Pennsylvania’s future.”

Projection Indicates 60% of Jobs in PA Will Require Higher Education

It is projected that by 2020 more than 60 percent of jobs in Pennsylvania and nationally will require at least some postsecondary education, and one-third of the projected job openings in this state are expected to require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“We must be there to help meet that need,” Brogan said. “Every bit of this System — as great as it has been over the years — will be examined. From how we operate the Office of the Chancellor to how we are organized as a System, we are approaching this strategic review with no restraints, no preconceptions and no limits.”

Stakeholders’ Input Needed for Reorganization of System

All of the System’s various stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and elected leaders, will be asked to provide input into the process. Significant changes could result.

“We must take steps now to unshackle our universities from arcane rules, practices and procedures that are preventing them from being the engines of opportunity they are intended to be. What worked 30 years ago in many cases isn’t working today,” Brogan said. “Not only do we have an opportunity to make some dynamic changes, we have an obligation to do so. If our state-owned universities are to survive – more than that, if they are to thrive into the future – we must be willing to evolve.”

Shapira Sees Challenges as Opportunities for Improvement

Calling herself a “realistic optimist,” Shapira said she looks at the challenges facing the State System and its universities as opportunities to improve the System and how it serves students. The planned, wide-ranging review of the System and the thought of change should not be a scary thing, she said, adding, “We have the opportunity to do things even better.”

Brogan Believes Major Changes Are Necessary

Brogan made clear that he believes major changes are necessary, as well.

“We cannot just tinker around the edges; we’ve got to be brave enough to explore every option as we move forward,” he said. “Higher education has always been known for big thinking. And that big thinking has resulted in some of the most important accomplishments ever achieved—from curing disease to landing a man on the moon. It’s time we use that same kind of big thinking to chart our own future.”

“In a very real sense, this is our moon shot. This is our chance to shape the future of our universities and the future of our students’ lives.”

State Rep. Baker Warned In Previous Statement Campuses Running Out of Reserve

The Post-Gazette noted that Cheyney University, a historically black institution, is “generally seen as being in the toughest financial spot, its operations supported in part by millions of dollars in loans from the State System.”

Also mentioned in the Post-Gazette article was a statement published in October of 2015 by State Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga, noting that Mansfield University leaders “were coming close to running out of reserves,” adding that “California University of Pennsylvania and Clarion University, among others, also bear watching.”

At that time, Baker stated that “There are several other universities that are going to be running through their reserves very soon.”

Dr. Karen M. Whitney, President of Clarion University, issued the following statement in response to the January 26, 2017 “State of the System” address and the corresponding Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article:


Today’s ‘State of the System’ address and corresponding Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article include comments made by the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education chancellor at the Board of Governors Meeting regarding the ongoing study of the system that the chancellor’s office is conducting.

This study is designed to evaluate how all of the 14 universities, as well as the chancellor’s office, operate. This is important work that all systems and universities should undergo. It is also work that our university community has been doing for many years. We have tremendous new additions to our campus living and learning community, and the partnerships across campus have resulted in many new academic programs over the last three years. These are in-demand programs that are leading students to choose Clarion first for programs which directly result in professional careers.

While I am appreciative that the commonwealth has restored some of the funding lost for higher education, we need to be funded in a way that keeps our campuses competitive and tuition affordable for our students. Clarion, like many of our sister schools across Pennsylvania, is the intellectual, cultural and financial leader in our region. We are proud of our many responsibilities to the region and will continue to do so as we move in to our second 150 years.

What makes me most proud of this campus is how Golden Eagles from across the university and across disciplines and employee groups, pull together to make Clarion strong for our students. We have faced – and continue to face – challenging times. These challenges are both system-wide and nation-wide, and we will continue our tradition of working together to meet them head on.

Dr. Karen M. Whitney
Clarion University

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