Hannah Collings – Staff Writer
CLARION, Pa.- Throughout the end of the spring semester and this summer, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) will closely review all 14 public universities within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
In February, PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan called for a review of all 14 state universities. PASSHE signed a contract two weeks ago with NCHEMS to help assess the best course of action for the 14 Pennsylvania State System universities, said PASSHE Media Relations Manager Kenn Marshall.
NCHEMS is a Colorado-based non-profit consulting firm that reviews institutions of higher learning to provide administration with suggested courses of action to benefit its institutions.
Marshall said NCHEMS will visit each campus, meeting with groups, students, staff, faculty, alumni and any others with a vested interest in the future of public higher education.
Marshall does not know if NCHEMS will conduct private interviews, public forums or use other means of assessment.
“It is going to be extensive,” said Marshall. “They’re going to be looking at everything as far as the academic programs the universities offer, the way they run their business operations [and] pretty much anything that the university does.”
The NCHEMS system review is set to conclude before the end of August.
“They’ll be looking at and trying to come up with some recommendations on what we as a system and what the individual universities can do going forward to ensure that they can operate, that they’ll be fiscally sound, and they can operate long into the future,” said Marshall.
He added NCHEMS will give PASSHE suggestions on changes for each university. The system may begin to implement changes as soon as October.
Pennsylvania public universities have experienced a system-wide enrollment decrease since 2010. Overall, enrollment is down almost 15,000 students, or 12 percent, Marshall said.
On Jan. 26, CBS Pittsburgh aired a story titled “University Review Could Lead to Some College Closings.” This story introduced the system review, but also led to some discussion and fear from students who attended universities the article said might close.
Among the CBS list of endangered universities was Clarion University.
PASSHE is not planning at this time to close any university, but plans to make changes based on what will most benefit students, Chairwoman of the PASSHE Board of Governors Cynthia Shapira and PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan said in a March 1 press release.
“It is obvious that we need to make some changes,” said Marshall. “But the goal is to make changes to ensure that all of our universities can continue to exist and continue to offer strong academic programs at an affordable cost to students.”
State funding for public universities has decreased in recent years. Marshall said PASSHE is receiving about the same amount of money from the state as they did in 1999.
Shapira and Brogan announced in their press release that PASSHE defended to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania their request of an additional appropriation of $61 million to continue to keep public higher education quality and affordable for Pennsylvania students.
Prospective students should still apply to their preferred state school without fear of closure, said Marshall. He also said that the system review should be reassuring rather than frightening.
“All of our universities have been around for more than a hundred years, and our goal is to make sure they’re around for another hundred,” said Marshall.