Dan Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, hosted an open forum at Shippensburg University in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020.
About 35 people met in the Ceddia Union Building multipurpose room last Thursday, March 31, for the forum. Students, faculty and staff, attended the open forum including SU Interim President Charles Patterson and SU first lady Colleen Patterson.
Conversations largely focused on the PASSHE budget and use of money among the several universities. Greenstein opened by speaking on the state of the system redesign saying, “There was sort of an inflection point around summer, fall, where you can see the trajectory of the broader system redesign really beginning to shift in a good way.”
Since 2018, two major focuses of PASSHE were reaching financial stabilization and position universities to continue serving the Pennsylvania population as student body and workforce needs change, he said.
Currently, schools statewide are facing enrollment challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that are impacting financial stabilization and the ability to serve student bodies.
The system is currently focused on finding better ways to retain students and stop enrollment decline, he said. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of diversity, equity and accessibility contribute to enrollment issues.
Addressing declining enrollment, Manuel Ruiz, the SU director of diversity, equity and inclusion, asked Greenstein if any future university integrations are being planned. Future integrations are not in the works as of now, Greenstein said. The initial integrations of 6 PASSHE universities last year were in response to the intense financial crisis the system has been facing, he said.
The six integrations were done to prevent further loss of enrollment and programs for students. As many universities kept downsizing programs, their enrolments declined as well, Greenstein explained. Instead of taking money that could be used for other universities, integration was the preferred option, he said.
In terms of local budgets at Shippensburg University, Aaron Dobbs, an SU professor, and library department chair, asked Greenstein about money used to pay professors overload instead of hiring adjuncts in the last year.
“So this year in numbers, Shippensburg spent about a quarter million dollars more on instructional credit delivery than it could have had it been able to hire adjuncts instead of providing overloads to cover new courses for our students,” Dobbs said.
Because of budget constraints, SU has held off on hiring adjunct professors in past years. This has resulted in tenured and tenured-track professors being paid to teach overloads which are more classes than they are contracted to teach.
A consequence of this has been a decline in the number of classes SU is able to provide for students, something that faculty and students complained about in the fall 2021 semester when it came time to schedule for the spring 2022 semester.
“[A quarter of a million dollars] It’s one person at the senior administrative level. Its two average faculty positions. It’s three or four average staff positions,” Dobbs said. “So these are all things that we could have provided more students with more services had we been able to repurpose that quarter million dollars other than direct instruction. Do you have a way to address this sort of thing?”
Budget constraints that are ever present mean “we will live within our means, we just have to,” Greenstein said. “They’re [budget restaurants] are really challenging in higher education, because they force tradeoffs.” How the system expressed budget constraints is very important and this summer there will be a chance to review and evaluate how the budget planning process has been working, Greenstein said.
Dobbs also spoke about ways to address programs and majors with low enrollment other than cutting them. Dobbs said he has run into many faculty members worried about what will happen with low enrolled programs, he said.
Dobbs told Greenstein that programs that meet the criteria of a low-enrolled program and are facing elimination would have cut 200 students from SU’s enrollment last ear. Over five years, Dobbs said, that would balloon to 1,000 students.
“That doesn't help our enrollment,” Dobbs said.
“There are two ways to look at local programs,” Greenstein responded. “One of them is to look at the students in them and the revenues they bring in. The other is to look at the cost of maintaining the program.”
Greenstein said that PASSHE and its individual schools cannot look at the revenue without looking at the cost.
“So, if we are going to operate in the red, how are we going to support that?” The chancellor said. “You have a skeptical state, and we’ve already priced our students out of the market.”
Greenstein added that the process of *expanding* low-enrolled programs is hard, but PASSHE institutions will get better at low-level programming over time.
Other questions pertaining to the budget included one from Arielle Catron, the PAGE center director, about whether PASSHE was considering implementing a system wide minim wage for student workers. Greenstein said the system was not considering a system wide student wage as there were not the funds for it and it is usually an item decided on by individual universities.
Gabby Holt, an audience member, brought up issues of systemic racism and inequality of students and faculty of color within the state system. “So, my question is, what is your solution to contributing to the fixing of this epidemic?” Holt said.
Greenstein addressed several of the policies and steps towards this solution that are already underway in the system. He explained that after the murder of George Floyd the PASSHE presidents spoke with him to address issues of racism and inequality that had taken on a new sense of urgency.
The system has a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy that has four components: diversifying faculty, diversifying curriculum, improving student success and eliminating attainment gaps, Greenstein said. He acknowledged that these solutions don’t need to take forever but that it will still take some time to achieve.
Another way the system is addressing these issues is through the Chief Diversity officer position held by a vice chancellor on his cabinet, Greenstein said.
More information about the PASSHE and the chancellor can be found at www.passhe.edu/Pages/default.aspx.
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