PASSHE confidence eroding

Successful businesses don’t just happen. They’re the product of hard work, expert planning and decision-making, and ongoing self-examination.

Profitable enterprises have a handle on where they’ve been, where they are and in what direction they’re heading. And they’re never satisfied with the status quo.

Education also needs all of that.

Amid that acknowledgment is the fact that these are not the best of times for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

The fact that some state lawmakers favor giving the 14 PASSHE schools the right to leave the system and become state-related universities, instead, demonstrates eroding confidence in the system’s ability to help the schools meet their needs and overcome their obstacles in the future.

Only four universities in the commonwealth currently have state-related status. They are Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.

It’s premature to predict whether the State System might eventually begin experiencing an exodus of member schools and even whether the PASSHE, as a governing parent, might eventually go out of existence.

It might be possible to avoid a major upheaval in the system, if a well-thought-out attack against current challenges is initiated.

Any study should not just be focused on the State System but, rather, encompass the whole spectrum of higher education in this state. That is what Frank Brogan, PASSHE chancellor for only about five months, advocates.

As reported by the Mirror on Feb. 23, Brogan, appearing before the state House Appropriations Committee, told lawmakers that “this probably would be a good time for Pennsylvania to begin a broader look at how we are organized as a state as far as how all things higher education are concerned.”

Brogan told the committee that he isn’t sure that the way higher education is organized in the commonwealth at this time is sustainable for the long haul.

Twelve of the 14 State System schools experienced an enrollments decline last year.

In a March 12 Mirror article, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, expressed concern that without changes, some of the schools might have to close.

Tomlinson is a sponsor of a bill that would allow PASSHE schools to exit the system as a means for acquiring the flexibility to deal with new enrollment trends and financial pressures.

During the House Appropriations Committee meeting at which Brogan spoke and fielded questions, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, referred to Pennsylvania’s menu of universities and colleges as a “hodgepodge,” which is an apt description.

“We have state-related [universities], and we have the state system, and then we have these independent colleges and community colleges,” he said.

Brogan told the Senate Appropriations Committee later that day that “trying to treat all of those [schools] with a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible and unsustainable” – for the schools and the state.

Pennsylvania should follow up on Brogan’s suggestion for a comprehensive study, prior to action on Tomlinson’s or any similar measure.

The Keystone State’s educational opportunities must not be compromised due to a lack of self-evaluation.

Appointing a study panel should be the first order of business.