EDITORIAL: Pa. colleges must adjust to new reality

York Dispatch
  • With dropping enrollments and aid, colleges are at a crossroads.
  • Though change is never easy, it's often necessary.
  • In this case, colleges that continue to resist change may become obsolete.

Pennsylvania's public universities are in a fight for lives.

The 14-university system of higher education has been dropped to the canvas by a devastating one-two combination — dropping enrollments and dropping state aid.

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Not all 14 may be able to get to their feet before they're given the 10 count.

A few smaller, rural schools may get knocked out for good.

That's the news that emerged from a two-hour State Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with state system officials.

For the many York County residents who earned their degrees from Millersville, Shippensburg and the other schools in the state system, that news likely came as a major shock.

The idea of closing some state schools would have seemed preposterous just a decade ago. The times, however, have changed dramatically, and the state schools, and higher education in general, hasn't adjusted quickly enough.

In large part, our nation's colleges and universities have an outdated business model that, in many cases, simply doesn't work anymore.

With tuition seemingly skyrocketing with each passing year, families more and more have had to ask a critical question — is a four-year college degree worth the enormous costs that often leave the graduates and their families facing crushing debt?

Pink slips may await some Pennsylvania public universities

With increasing frequency, the answer is no. The long-term benefits of a four-year degree no longer are certain to outweigh the short-term costs.

That certainly wasn't the case a generation or two ago. Families willingly forked over the money to send their kids to college because, in the long run, they knew it would pay off in better jobs and higher incomes.

That's not a guarantee any longer. Just ask your waiter with the liberal arts degree.

University officials, in Pennsylvania and around the nation, must now take a hard look in the mirror and reevaluate everything thing they do.

That will not be easy. Universities, by their very nature, are bureaucratic and sometimes even arrogant. They're also insular and resistant to change.

In today's world, however, they need to be nimble and open to new ideas.

A four-year bachelor degree is not the answer for every student. More options and more innovations are desperately needed.

In essence, our universities are in need of a severe culture change. They need to remember that their students are their customers, and they must adjust to meet the customers' needs, instead of treating the customer like a lump of clay to be molded into the university's preformed cast.

That's not how successful businesses operate.

There will be resistance, of course, especially from the entrenched faculty members and administrators, who have the most to lose from business changes. They'll claim that colleges aren't businesses, but institutions of learning.

That may be true, but if the bottom line is not considered, some of those institutions of higher learning may soon see their doors closed for good.

That's the ugly specter that was raised at the Appropriations Committee meeting.

To their credit, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education officials plan to hire a consultant to give recommendations on what needs to be done to rectify the situation.

That's a start, but it's only a start.

The process is sure to be long and arduous.

In the end, however, we must develop Higher Education 2.0.

If we don't, some of our state universities might face a very grim future, or none at all.