The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is in crisis. Institutional “combinations” (mergers) are being considered. Ten PASSHE institutions are facing “retrenchment” (faculty layoffs). Yet, public outcry over these proposals remains minimal.
With enrollments declining over the past decade, cutting costs should be considered, but the current proposals are indiscriminate and short term. As a former instructor at a public university, I know that faculty are the core of any institution. Cutting faculty limits mentorship opportunities and increases class sizes, ultimately hurting students.
Layoffs must be the last option.
Two major problems present themselves. First, we must recognize the wide-ranging positive benefits the PASSHE system brings Pennsylvanians. Unlike other public Pennsylvania colleges, such as Penn State University, PASSHE institutions almost exclusively serve in-state students — who remain in-state once they graduate.
Unlike other states’ systems, where campuses have a shared identity, it is not obvious that PASSHE universities are public institutions from their names (Millersville University, for example). Since PASSHE is nearly invisible in terms of branding, I fear we forget this entire university system deserves our support.
This leads to the second critical action Pennsylvania must take: fund PASSHE. Pennsylvania ranks 47th among states in terms of tax percentage devoted to higher education. Resultingly, PASSHE institutions have had to raise tuition, potentially discouraging students from gaining a college education.
With the number of ongoing crises, education funding may seem like a triviality, but if we fail to act, we risk losing irreplaceable drivers of equity, personal development and economic growth.