A value in itself
It's hard to over-estimate the importance of the state university system to Pennsylvania's economy.
About 114,000 students are enrolled on the 14 campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which locally includes Mansfield University, as well as East Stroudsburg and Bloomsburg universities in Northeast Pennsylvania. Those campuses also are keystones of their local economies.
So the health of those colleges is crucial not just to students, but to the commonwealth as a whole.
Over the last three years, the system has experienced a decline in enrollment. State funding has remained flat after being cut 18 percent in 2011-2012 to $412.8 million, roughly what the state government contributed in 1997-1998. Several of the state universities have announced plans to eliminate majors and to cut faculty and support staff.
Frank Brogan, the new system chancellor who held the same post in Florida after serving as that state's lieutenant governor, recently laid out his approach to change. He favors more comprehensive reforms across the system rather than a purely campus-by-campus approach.
Each campus is unique and, as Mr. Brogan noted, some of the changes must be campus-specific. There are inherent differences, he noted, in operating a campus with 5,000 students and others with up to 15,000 students.
But the system itself has some defining characteristics that could help system-wide change. For example, the vast majority of the system's students are from Pennsylvania. Historically, most of the system's graduates have remained in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Brogan advocates identifying predominant job opportunities and shaping the system to meet them. The system now has over-enrollment in some majors that don't serve the economic reality of the commonwealth, he said. He favors eliminating redundancy by concentrating certain majors on certain campuses.
It's important that the system not look at its role as vocational education, that it maintain higher education as a value in itself. But given the realities already being experienced by the system, Mr. Brogan's approach is sensible.