EDITORIAL: Merging Pa. universities a good idea, but more college changes are needed

The value of a college degree has come under criticism in recent years.
  • The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education wants to merge six of its 14 universities.
  • Under the plan, the six universities would evolve into two new institutions.
  • A goal of the plan is to reduce the cost of a degree for students by 25%.

Our nation’s colleges and universities desperately need to reinvent themselves.

That’s been apparent for years now, but the problem has become especially acute during the financial crunch created during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s become obvious that many of our postsecondary institutions are no longer adequately serving the needs of our young people. They’ve become administratively bloated and obscenely overpriced.

In recent decades, students across the nation have left college with mountains of debt and degrees that do not guarantee them good jobs.

Given that background, it’s not surprising that many colleges find enrollment dropping.

Something needs to change.

Supporting Pennsylvania proposal: That’s why we fully support the recent vote by the board of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to advance a plan to merge six of its 14 universities into two new institutions.

The vote was made in response to sinking enrollment and stagnant state aid.

The nearly unanimous vote from the board of governors launches a 60-day public comment period. A final vote could be scheduled for July, with implementation in time for the 2022-23 school year.

State university system advances consolidation plan a step

Under the consolidation plans, Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven universities in northern Pennsylvania would merge into one institution and California, Clarion and Edinboro in western Pennsylvania would merge to become another.

According to the Associated Press, the two institutions being formed would be the accredited entity, with a single management team, faculty, academic program array, budget and enrollment management strategy.

It will also get a new name, yet to be determined, but to be selected from options that are market-tested for their appeal. All six campuses would remain open, with its own identity and brand, and the administration's aim of ensuring that each of the six campuses retain its sports teams.

A goal of the plan is to reduce the cost of a degree for students by 25% through things such as faster degree attainment, high school dual enrollments, cost savings, stronger fundraising and grant funding and more federal work study opportunities.

Change can’t come soon enough: As far as we’re concerned, the change couldn’t come soon enough.

For far too long, the annual position at colleges and universities to any financial squeeze was to simply to raise tuition at a rate that far outpaced inflation, secure in the knowledge that parents and students would hold their noses and pay the exorbitant fees because a college degree was allegedly worth its weight in gold.

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That is no longer the case. A college degree is no longer a guarantee of long-term financial success, especially given the massive debt that often comes with that degree.

It’s time that colleges and universities think outside the box and come up with some new plans to better serve their students.

We believe the proposal by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is just such a plan.

Any proposal that aims to reduce the cost of a degree by 25% is one we can fully support.

More change still needed: The change shouldn’t stop there. Postsecondary education needs to focus more on technical and trade degrees that offer better career opportunities at a cheaper price.

Additionally, parents and students should look at community and junior colleges as less expensive options for the initial transition to postsecondary schooling.

Our nation’s colleges and universities have reached a tipping point. The same old methods are no longer working. Some transformative ideas are desperately needed.

Hopefully, the changes being considered in Pennsylvania will play a positive role in that transformation.