Pennsylvania's state universities get more autonomy, influence

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The board of governors for Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities today gave member schools greater autonomy to create minors and certificate programs and approved additional tuition price flexibility experiments, including one at Clarion University.

The board also voted to give local universities a greater role in helping the system vet prospective campus presidents, part of a wider effort to defuse campus-level criticisms that the system is not responsive to the needs of individual campuses and does not move fast enough to respond to market changes.

Among the presidential search changes are inviting chairs of university trustees and local search committees to participate in final deliberations leading up to board of governors’ votes to hire new campus leaders.

State System Chancellor Frank Brogan has said system leaders are committed to giving more local control in development of minors, certificates and letters of completion. Today’s board vote effectively shifts decisions on those from the system to local campuses.

In January, the board approved pilot programs giving several campuses added flexibiity to lower charges for some programs to spur enrollment and to adjust prices upward for others particularly in science and technology that are considered high demand and expensive to deliver.

Three more pilot programs were approved today, including one enabling full-time undergraduates at Clarion University to pay per-credit rather than the traditional approach of charging a flat rate to those taking 12 to 18 credits. If implemented by Clarion, it would take effect in 2015, system officials said.

The per-credit price at Clarion would be adjusted so that students on average would not pay more than they currently do, but instead would gain greater payment flexibility that could help reduce the numbers who leave campus for financial reasons, system officials said. Those losses are believed to have been one contributor to an overall 17 percent enrollment loss at Clarion since 2010.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, cautioned the board to guard against excessive tuition increases in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We want to be careful not to drive undergraduates away from these majors due to the pricetag,” he said today.

Board member Ron Henry, chair of its finance committee, gave an assurance later in the meeting that the intent is that “students not be squeezed out of programs."

The State System enrolled 112,00 students including those on the Western Pennsylvania campuses of California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities.

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

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