Survival skills: The state universities should follow their leader

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There's a new boss at the State System of Higher Education and he's not afraid to shake things up.

That's just what the 14 state-owned university campuses need if they're going to survive and thrive during a period when the number of high school graduates and dollars from state taxpayers both are dropping.

Frank T. Brogan, who became system chancellor on Oct. 1, held his first meeting with reporters Thursday at Clarion University, laying out a vision for responding to enrollment that has dropped significantly and student majors that have shifted dramatically.

Because 90 percent of the system's students come from Pennsylvania, a quick turnaround is unlikely. Some campuses have started to make necessary cuts that unfortunately mean people will lose their jobs, and Mr. Brogan's systemwide approach undoubtedly will cause pain, too.

Nonetheless, the ideas he voiced last week sound reasonable so far. He wants every university and department in the system's administration to review their programs and staffing, identify their strengths and start promoting them. The days of 14 campuses each offering a comprehensive selection of programs, majors and course work are over, he said. The state can't afford inefficient duplication without enrollment to support it.

The vast majority of the system's graduates remain in Pennsylvania, and Mr. Brogan said the schools owe it to state taxpayers to turn out alumni prepared for jobs necessary in the local economy. In some cases, that will require retooling offerings to produce, for example, more students headed for work in science, technology, math, business or health and fewer future teachers, the mainstay of the system's universities that has seen the biggest decline in student interest.

Mr. Brogan wants to see more shared services, access to online courses and a "seamless" way for community college grads to move into state universities.

Some of his ideas drew immediate criticism from faculty union leaders, but they shouldn't be too quick to criticize. Mr. Brogan's approach is essential for their schools' survival.


First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM


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