- The 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) have seen enrollment collectively decline by 13% during the last decade, and 11 of the system's institutions are operating with financial deficits. A state legislature-commissioned report recommends that the system merge weaker institutions with stronger ones, reorganize campuses from state-funded to state-associated status, or convert each institution to become branches of one large state institution.
- These actions, the report said, will mitigate the influence of political voices in campus management, while streamlining offerings to better suit the state's needs.
- The report specifically cautioned against closures but recommended that the state consider implementing parts of five possible options through a phased approach to consolidation.
Given that Pennsylvania lawmakers have stated their concern about the commonwealth having too many institutions, and have questioned the impact of Penn State University having multiple campuses throughout the state, it would seem that the report recommendations are an affirmation of plans that have been in the making for consolidating institutions and cutting higher ed spending.
Pennsylvania's population loss has been declining or stagnant in recent years and has seen a drop in high school-age students. While states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana and others may have a long-term view of how to head off the bursting college bubble, the reality is that the bubble may actually have to burst and force closures rather than taking the risk of preemptive action that can lead to higher costs and more controversy for system leaders.
For systems with historically black colleges that have been historically underfunded, there is a risk of inviting and losing a racial segregation lawsuit. Georgia faced this problem and countered it with a consolidation of a predominantly white institution into a historically back university. That may not be so simple in Pennsylvania and other states, where the devastation of enrollment loss and deferred facility maintenance may be too great to sustain a similar consolidation.