Clarion's retooling: A state-owned university charts a prudent course

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Clarion University administrators are doing the right thing by making tough cuts to remain fiscally sound and positioned to meet the future needs of students. Declining enrollment, reduced state funding and dramatic changes in what students wish to study demanded the restructuring.

Clarion saw a 7 percent enrollment loss last year, expects another 9 percent this year and must save $8 million in order to stay within its $90 million budget. The State System of Higher Education, whose 14 state-owned universities include Clarion, likewise suffered an overall enrollment loss over the past three years and took an 18 percent cut in state funding.

The system schools and Clarion in particular saw a decline in the popularity of teaching education programs, with a precipitous drop at Clarion from 2,603 education majors in 2003 to just 855 today, a 67 percent reduction. Given that reality, it would be irresponsible for Clarion to maintain the same staffing levels and fail to reorganize departments that are part of its College of Education and Human Services, as President Karen Whitney has proposed.

Clarion's circumstances are hardly unique. Last year, for example, the University of Pittsburgh took the controversial step of suspending admission to graduate programs in the classics, religious studies and German.

Similarly, Clarion and the other state system schools can't ignore the fact that the number of high school graduates in Pennsylvania -- where the state system gets most of its students -- is not expected to rebound until 2020, and a sudden turnabout in the level of state funding is not anticipated any time soon either.

A sad consequence of Clarion's restructuring plan is that 40 people, including 22 faculty members, are expected to lose jobs. Unfortunately, as students decide to study science, technology and nursing rather than teacher training, a music education professor cannot provide instruction in, say, the biology department.

While it is the role of the unions that represent campus employees to protect their members, it is not the role of the university to function as a job bank, providing salaries for jobs that no longer are needed on the campus. With 14 universities in the state system, plus Pennsylvania's four state-related schools and a range of private universities, community colleges and trade schools, there is no reason for every campus in the state-owned system to offer every program. Reducing duplication is essential.

Naturally, other campuses in the state system are watching to see what happens at Clarion. There is much they can learn from what Clarion has proposed so far.

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