Chancellor delivers 'State of the System' on Pa. universities

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Faster approval of new academic programs, a greater voice in vetting prospective campus presidents, and added tuition price flexibility are what member universities can expect from the State System of Higher Education, Chancellor Frank Brogan said today.

He did not mention during a midday speech in Harrisburg the desire of some of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities to secede, nor did he cite controversial Senate legislation introduced last month that would enable it to occur.

But in his first “State of the System” address, Mr. Brogan acknowledged some of the same grievances cited by those including backers of Senate bill 1275, who say the system moves too slowly and holds too much power.

In embargoed remarks prepared for delivery at 12:30 p.m in the Dixon University Center, the chancellor said efforts to address those complaints are underway.

Nevertheless, he took issue with those who say the system’s future is shaky and uncertain. “They are wrong,” he said.

And he noted that collaboration among the member schools contributes to the success of their 112,000 students.

“Consider this: Most of the top-rated public universities in the nation are members of university systems,” Mr. Brogan said. “There is strength in numbers.”

He later added, “Fourteen universities working together can achieve a great deal.”

Mr. Brogan became chancellor in October. His remarks were set for delivery just after his formal installation ceremony, and they are attracting heightened interest given the secession bill and recent faculty and program cuts occurring amid extraordinary enrollment and fiscal strains.

Those troubles include the loss of 7,200 students systemwide in three years -- losses approaching 20 percent on some campuses -- and severe state funding cuts that have lowered the system’s support to 1997 levels. The 14 universities include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock in Western Pennsylvania.

The State System is undergoing an evolution “that is essential for our long-term viability,” Mr. Brogan said. Leaders, he added, already are working to strike a balance between coordination and local decision-making, rescinding policies and practices “that no longer are needed to help our 14 universities move toward greatness.”

He said fully developed proposals from member universities to implement new academic programs can be acted on in less than 90 days, and the system is developing a fast-track approach for more urgent training needs, such as when a company arrives in a community.

He said the system’s board of governors, which begins two days of meetings today, is committed to giving more local control in development of minors, certificates and letters of completion. He said a proposal will be acted on this week “to allow decisions for those programs to shift to the local level.”

By statute, the State System hires campus presidents, but Mr. Brogan said another initiative under consideration would ensure that chairs of university trustee councils and local search committees “would be included in final deliberations by the board of governors.”

He said half a dozen experiments enabling universities to alter tuition prices so they can better compete already have been approved, including one enabling Edinboro University to charge out-of-state students rates approaching what Pennsylvanians pay. He said three more are under consideration.

Senate bill 1275’s prime sponsor, state Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, is on the council of trustees at West Chester University, one of only two state system schools with growing enrollment.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.

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