A plan to merge six state universities into two in an effort to plug a money drain and deal with declining enrollments was given final approval Wednesday.
The state System of Higher Education’s board of governors voted unanimously to approve the plan that integrates California University of Pennsylvania with Clarion and Edinboro and three other schools in the Northeast.
“We’re bleeding cash,” state system Chancellor Daniel Greenstein said before the historic vote was taken.
The universities have a combined enrollment of about 93,000 students, a number that has dropped by more than 20% over the past decade.
The motion followed a roundtable discussion where each of the 18 governors was invited to express their views on the plan.
State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-King of Prussia, sought a delay of the vote until fall to allow more students to voice public comments on the integration plan.
The first order of business following that vote involved naming Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson as interim Cal U. president, replacing Robert Thorn. Pehrsson has been serving in the leadership position at Edinboro and Clarion.
Board Chairwoman Cindy Shapira said it was in everyone’s best interest to get permanent leadership in place at the integrated schools. The six universities have yet to be accredited in a process that could take a year.
The state system was under a direction from the Legislature to redesign the 14 state-owned universities at a time when Edinboro and Clarion were heading toward negative surpluses. Cal U., which also has large debts, would be eliminating programs without the integration.
Thorn said Wednesday doing nothing would be risky and that the merger paves the way for “financial stability.”
By design, the mergers would allow more programs to be offered at the struggling schools, none of which were permitted to close.
Shapira said the plan calls for face-to-face learning and on campus experiences, as well as online learning. The schools also will keep their historic names.
“Today’s vote represents the most profound re-imagining of public higher education in the commonwealth since the state system began in 1983,” Shapira said.
“This effort has proven we can fulfill what we set out to do – ensuring student and institutional success while providing the highest quality education at the lowest possible price.”
Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, will work to ensure the outcome of the mergers will be the best for the students.
Martin also said the union will work to “make sure our students are heard” after they return in the fall.