Whitney, Oberlander clear up school closing scare

Kayla Handy and Eric Zavinski – Editor in Chief and News Editor

CLARION, Pa.- Discussion of the possible merging and closing of several Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities was topic of high controversy following PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan’s state address early January.

Brogan stated how the state’s current system was “unsustainable” and “all options will be considered as officials plan for the future.” As a result of his address, the 14 PASSHE schools will undergo a strict review process.

Requests for proposals have been sent out to different firms around the country, who in turn will submit how they would accomplish a review. Brogan stated that he hopes to have this process completed in the next four to five months.

After completion, the recommendations resulting from the review will be readdressed by the chancellor and university presidents to determine what changes need to be made in order to succeed, whether it be changes in how the system operates or insight into the future of state investment.

Nonetheless, Brogan has promised that there is no preconceived agenda, just an “honest and deep review of the state schools and the system.”

The result of such a review may result in merging and closing of state schools, but that was and is not the objective of the state system review. Clarion University President Karen Whitney stands firm that the review will only benefit the state system and Clarion as a growing and changing university.

“Let me be super clear,” stated Whitney, “public universities don’t close, they change. Clarion University in not closing, it is changing.”

Whitney claimed that the review will provide better information in order for Clarion officials to make better decisions in regards to what Clarion teaches, how professors teach and who they teach.

“I welcome a review,” said Whitney, “because I want to talk about what we have done well. I do invite really smart people to come in and take a look at us and give us advice, so that we can keep getting better.”

The State System enrollment has declined by about 12 percent in the last six years, or by nearly 12,000 students. Last year, universities discontinued 70 programs but added 30 new degrees and 200 new minors.

Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander commented how the State System is facing two very serious issues related to funding and enrollment, largely prompting the need for the in-depth review.

“The amount of state funding the System receives has declined significantly since the onset of the recession in 2008,” she said.

“Of course as an alum, a resident of Clarion Borough, the mom of a Clarion University student, a trustee and the state representative for the district that includes Clarion University, the success and growth of Clarion University are a top priority for me.”

“I will continue to work with the university’s administration, the board of trustees, the State System, as well as the legislature to ensure its continued existence as a growing, thriving institution of higher learning,” she concluded.

One statement remains clear: Clarion is not merging or closing anytime soon, nor are any of the other state system schools for that matter. The chancellor himself does not have the authority to close Clarion, which would require legislation, a state law.

“Clarion existed before the State System,” said Whitney.

“The chancellor and the board would have to secure legislation and pass a law. It would be a process, not a single decision that would not happen at once. If a university were to close, it would take several years in order to close it because every single student enrolled would have the obligation, through the university, to complete his or her degree.”

“We keep our end,” said Whitney.

“It is not about enrollment,” she said in response to declining enrollment as a reason for the review.  Instead, Whitney’s focus is on making the university more successful all-around.

“It is about the future,” she clarified.  “Quite frankly, the state should be investing more in the public state universities or deregulate us.”

The results of the review will simply outline strategic plans and ideas that universities can take in order to increase enrollment, funding, retention and sustainability.

Whitney hopes the upcoming review of Clarion will help to augment the professional programs the university has to offer.  “That’s where our growth is,” she said, citing 80 percent of students who are in programs that directly prepare them for the workforce.

“We are in a continuous state of change,” said Whitney. “Higher education is like any other industry; we will always be changing. With this review happening right now, we are changing in deep and timely ways that are new to us.”

She concluded, “Change is the new normal in higher education. It is more rapid and more profound than it has been before. I guess in a way you could say that our new tag line is Courageous Confident Current Clarion.”

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