HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s state university system hopes next year to build on the historic investment it received this year from the Commonwealth, while also asking for direct student aid to produce graduates in areas to strong demand.
The state higher education system’s board of trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to approve a request for the state to invest an additional $21 million, a 3.8 percent increase, to support its operating budget. That would bring his total credit request to $573.5 million.
System Chancellor Dan Greenstein said an appropriation of this size would allow him to freeze state-level tuition at $7,716 for state undergraduates for a fifth straight year. . However, each university has the option of setting a different rate with the approval of the system board.
Maintaining the increase within a three-year average of annual changes in inflation would also be consistent with the commitment made to the General Assembly last spring that if the system received the historic $75 million increase it has received to support its operating budget, it would only ask for an inflationary increase in the future.
Additionally, at the meeting, held at the PennWest campus in California, the board approved asking the state to provide $112 million to the system’s 10 universities to enroll and support students pursuing college degrees. studies in areas where significant labor shortages exist in this state. Specifically, system officials have identified these areas as falling under the fields of health, education, engineering, social work, and IT.
Some $99 million of that would be used to provide financial aid to students to help pay their tuition.
The remainder would be used to pay for the additional supports needed to deliver these high-cost degree programs as well as provide students with additional instruction, career advice and mentorship to ensure they complete their studies in these areas.
In a previous interview, Greenstein pointed out that targeted demand is rooted in the state’s employers demanding more than the system needs.
“You don’t have to get it from the state system, but you have to get it from somewhere”, he said. “Where do you get the teachers from?” Where are you going to find the IT people? Remember, Amazon didn’t come to Philadelphia because there weren’t enough (workers with those skills) and the universities in the state couldn’t produce enough.
The Chancellor said that having public universities offering programs in these high-need areas as part of the solution makes sense.
Using a system-created tool to look at the number of graduates needed to fill the state’s workforce gap, Greenstein said he estimates his universities should produce about 1 each year. 500 more teachers, 1,400 in business fields and 700 more nurses and medical assistants each year to do its part.
“What’s stopping us from delivering these students?” Greenstein told the board. “The biggest thing holding us back from growing where we need to grow in these areas of accreditation is – even though we are the most affordable higher education option available in the state – it is still too much. expensive for so many students.”
System Board Chair Cynthia Shapira praised system officials for writing a credit application “That makes total sense.”
No other board member commented on the request during the meeting, which was interrupted for about half an hour when an employee of the Chancellor’s office present experienced a health emergency.
Other highlights of the meeting include:
– System-wide offerings: Shapira offered an update on the student information system, saying it was on track to make it easier for students at its 10 universities to access courses and programs offered in other schools in the system by 2025.
This initiative began at PennWest, the university born last summer from the consolidation of the universities of California, Clarion and Edinboro, where it is already used. She said the student information system will go live at Commonwealth University, the consolidated university formed by the universities of Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield, later this month.
“It’s huge in my mind” Shapira said. “And just one example of incredible innovation that will benefit all of our students and truly all of Pennsylvania in the future.”
– Campus climate: The results of a campus climate survey are now publicly available on the state system’s website, which Greenstein says will be used to start conversations at universities about how to address areas where improvement is needed.
Based on responses from over 13,000 respondents, including students, faculty, staff, and management, campus safety ranked as the area that received the most positive responses, while employee engagement and politics were areas to work on.
The council’s faculty liaison, Amanda Morris of Kutztown University, urged the council to take seriously the poor reporting of employee engagement results in the survey as it relates to faculty.
“We are the ones who put our students at ease, who feel committed to the campus. They are connected. You cannot disconnect us”, said Morris. “We are in the trenches every day. We work with our students. We work with staff and teachers. This is a serious problem.”
— Next phase of overhaul: The system also announced that it is entering the third phase of its overhaul which aims to attract non-traditional students to help meet the state’s workforce needs. Greenstein stressed that this is necessary given that the number of high school graduates is expected to increase from 130,000 in 2026 to around 113,000 in 2037.
He said the system would not give up serving those “traditional” students, but it needs to expand its reach to students from low-income communities, first-generation students, those who chose not to enroll in college immediately after high school, and those seeking a credential but not a degree to get a better job.
“We must also think about developing in these areas”, said Greenstein.
Realizing that this work is about to begin, Ken Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said in his remarks to the board that preserving the liberal arts requirements for a college degree is equally important. that preparing students with technical skills.
He said it makes them better citizens, better parents and better conversational friends.
“We must never, ever, ever lose sight of what a college education really means. It can never just mean professional training,” Mash said. “While we should and should pay attention to the needs of the Commonwealth and the needs of the workforce, we must always, always, always remember the importance of the liberal arts.”
In addition to the schools that make up PennWest and Commonwealth universities, the universities in the state system, which enroll approximately 85,000 degree-seeking students, also include Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.