Even before COVID-19, many public and private colleges across the country were facing difficult circumstances with regards to enrollments and budgets. While shuttering colleges remains an option for some, the more likely outcome is consolidation. The move for Pennsylvania colleges to consolidate (“Rethinking the Pennsylvania State System”) makes sense in many ways. The question remains: why not go further and consolidate more of them? I understand that they are thinking with a geographic perspective, but why not empower centralized control with shadow administrations on campus? Why consolidate by two, when you could do the same with three or four? It follows the same argument while providing even greater efficiencies.
Even in a state system, colleges are unique and enjoy their intrastate competitiveness. However, this is a new age. The costs and prices of higher education are simply too high to decentralize at such a scale. Each campus can remain unique, but from a cost standpoint, it makes more sense to centralize all purchasing and servicing, knowing full well that students still need to have point people on campus for financial aid and other student services.
Pennsylvania, you have an opportunity to go further. Why not pull the five western institutions: Edinboro, Clarion, Slippery Rock, Indiana, and California together into one cohesive unit. The same could happen for other state institutions. Lock Haven, Mansfield, Bloomsburg, and East Stroudsburg as one subset, and a Shippensburg, Millersville, Kutztown, West Chester, and Cheyney as an other. Then there would be three subsystems instead of 14 or even the proposed 11. Of course, from a simple map standpoint, one could argue the elimination of 2-3 campuses completely, including Clarion and Indiana, as well as West Chest/Cheyney and Kutztown. I am sure there are both programmatic and political reasons to keep all 14 open, but at what cost? At least their trying. Watch this scenario playout across the country in the next five years.
–Watson Scott Swail
President & Senior Research Scientist
Educational Policy Institute