The proposal, which follows the blueprint the Governor released on January 26, is threefold. First, the Governor proposed to “unite” the 10 state-owned universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), with the existing 15 community colleges in Pennsylvania under a new governing structure. The new governing structure would not create competitors among the existing PASSHE schools and community colleges, but equals, with the sole purpose of streamlining pathways between schools to improve offerings to students, increasing access and transparency, and making higher education more affordable. In uniting these entities, the Governor made clear, however, that each PASSHE university and community college would retain local control.
Second, the Governor outlined a plan to reduce tuition at state-owned colleges to $1,000 for families making $70,000 or less.
Third, the Governor discussed a performance-based funding system for public colleges…with a twist! In an attempt to address the long-standing “brain drain” concern, where students receive their education in Pennsylvania then leave the Commonwealth for jobs elsewhere, the funding plan proposed by the Governor will include a provision that would—for the first time in Pennsylvania’s higher education history—award colleges funding based on success in keeping graduates in Pennsylvania.
The overhaul follows the Governor’s promise in his initial budget address last year to “present a comprehensive and meaningful reform plan for higher education” and looks to achieve not only a political objective, but a practical one, as enrollment in both PASSHE and community colleges continues its precipitous decline. Since 2010, PASSHE, which now consists of 10 universities, has lost more than 30% of its enrollment, currently enrolling 82,688 students, whereas the 15 community colleges have lost an estimated 37% of students since the same year.
Proposing these reforms is one thing; getting enough bipartisan support in the closely divided General Assembly to enact them is another. By state law, the General Assembly must pass a balanced budget by June 30. The education group at Klehr Harrison will continue to monitor progress until signed into law by Governor Shapiro. Please contact a member of the education practice group with any questions.