Loser’s game: West Chester wants to take its ball and go home

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West Chester University, not satisfied with new flexibility recently approved by the State System of Higher Education, has doubled down on efforts to secede from the association of 14 state-owned institutions.

Two state lawmakers with ties to West Chester already have introduced a bill that would allow West Chester, and other successful State System schools, to opt out and become state-related instead of state-owned universities.

Now West Chester has taken the additional step of contracting with a Harrisburg lobbying firm to twist legislative arms on its behalf, although the college trustees didn’t actually hire Bravo Group. Like many of the colleges that make up the State System of Higher Education, West Chester has an independent foundation — by its own definition — that “supports the goals of West Chester University through fundraising activities, the management of donated resources and the promotion of the University needs to prospective contributors.”

It was the foundation that hired the lobbying and public relations firm, providing the latest example of how these foundations can sidestep rules that otherwise apply to state-owned institutions — in this case by avoiding bidding requirements for hiring outside firms.

The move is motivated by West Chester’s success, with enrollment increasing in the face of shrinkage elsewhere in the State System. However, the attempt to leave the State System ignores changes made just two months ago, when the board of governors gave individual colleges more leeway in setting tuition rates. In West Chester’s case, that included discounts for students who attend its center in downtown Philadelphia instead of its main campus 25 miles away in Chester County.

West Chester is behaving like the child who, unhappy with how a game is going, threatens to take his ball and go home. Except West Chester is trying to take the whole field. And the dormitories. And the classrooms and laboratories and faculty members and administrators — amenities that were built and developed with taxpayer dollars.

The State System obviously is opposing the attempt. Chancellor Frank Brogan said secession would be prohibitively expensive, would hurt West Chester and drive up costs for Pennsylvania students.

It’s time for a higher-level authority figure — Gov. Tom Corbett or his education secretary — to step in and tell West Chester to give up. West Chester officials, employees, students and supporters should understand that trying to leave the State System is a loser’s game.

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