Dissolve the cancer that is PASSHE

Dissolve the cancer that is PASSHE

The chancellor of the struggling Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) uttered some sharp words at a recent state Senate hearing on the planned merger of six of the system’s 14 member schools.

While some consider what Daniel Greenstein said to be a threat, it’s starting to sound more and more like the best public policy prescription to address what, when considered in toto, is a failed model.

As the Post-Gazette reports it, the chancellor “was addressing the scramble for dollars and enrollment that increasingly pits the 14 state-owned universities against one another” as he “defended the controversial planned mergers of six of those universities into two, plus other changes.”

Shifting money from healthier schools to prop up weaker ones no longer is sustainable, the P-G says Greenstein properly noted, adding:

“Unless we figure this out, I will be recommending to the board that we come back to the Senate next year with a legislative package to dissolve the system.”

One state senator called it a “threat.” The head of Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) predictably called it “reckless and irresponsible.”

But it might just be the Rx that guarantees the health of the strongest PASSHE schools.

As Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute, noted in December (in Policy Brief Vol. 20, No. 43), it wasn’t until recently that the system considered cutting faculty and staffing that no longer comported with precipitous drops in student census at some member schools.

Whether it’s too little too late remains to be seen.

But considering the significant and continuing challenges of consolidations — Greenstein says the goal of the mergers is to share a single administration, a combined management enrollment strategy, faculty and staff and to offer common academic programs, which will be far easier said than done — one has to wonder if it will only enable more student bleeding and more union milking and more faux remedial actions that fall short of what’s necessary.

As Haulk, a Ph.D. economist, also reminded last year (in Policy Brief Vol. 20, No. 32), “the fact is that the State System’s problems associated with enrollment declines cannot be allowed to continue getting worse and even more difficult to solve.”

And that’s no matter whether the roadblocks are operational or political.

It’s never been more abundantly clear that PASSHE has failed as a higher educational system and as a business model. Cancers within are eating the host and the host – and system schools doing well — will die if these cancers are left unchecked.

Chancellor Greenstein’s prospective proposal to dissolve PASSHE must be as assiduously studied as any merger plans.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).