Let's not be hasty
Pennsylvania's 14-university State System of Higher Education is among the largest in the nation, and it has been largely effective in its mission - making higher education accessible to as many Pennsylvania students as possible. Locally, Mansfield University is one of the 14.
Some state lawmakers appear to be losing sight of that mission as they drive a movement to allow the largest and most successful of the universities in the system to go their own way.
State Sen. Robert Tomlinson, a Bucks County Republican and a graduate of West Chester University, and state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, a Chester County Democrat and former West Chester professor, have introduced a bill that would allow West Chester and others to do so.
If the bill passes, it would do substantial harm to the overall system and to students.
Under the bill, any of the state universities would be allowed to leave the system if they have more than 7,000 students, are financially stable as certified by an audit, and are willing to buy back their campuses from the state government at a depreciated rate.
Over 30 years, the departing institutions would pay 70 percent of the depreciated value of their campuses to the PASSHE system, and 30 percent to the state government. Mr. Tomlinson and other backers say that would be a good way to help fund the remaining institutions. Overall, the system faces a $60 million deficit this year.
West Chester, with 15,400 students and the highest average operating margin in the system, is the leading candidate to leave. It and any others that leave would become state-affiliated universities like Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln.
Tuition at state-system schools this year is $6,600. At Penn State, it's more than $17,000.
Allowing the strongest members of the system to exit would diminish their accountability to taxpayers while preserving their current levels of state funding. And it would ensure that the weaker institutions in the system would become even more so.
Lawmakers should move very slowly and carefully on any proposal to break up the system, which exists to ensure access to college.
"This would create an added burden for students and their families. Every university that leaves the state system could close another door to affordable, quality public higher education," said Frank Brogan, the state system chancellor.
That, rather than a quick deficit fix through secession, should be the issue.