HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education remains committed to its mission of providing high-quality, affordable education and will be guided by its new strategic plan, "2020--Rising to the Challenge" in fulfilling that mission, Chancellor Frank Brogan said this week in his first State of the System address.
Brogan further said his goal is for PASSHE to be recognized as the "most flexible, most collaborative and most student-focused" university system in America.
"We all know that these are challenging times for the state system," Brogan said. "Perhaps never before in PASSHE's history has it been more important for us to work together to achieve our primary mission of providing high-quality education at the lowest possible cost to students. We must never waiver from that mission -- from that promise -- to our students and their families, no matter what obstacles are set before us."
Brogan delivered his first State of the System address following a brief ceremony officially recognizing his installation as PASSHE's fourth chancellor. Brogan was named chancellor in October at the conclusion of a national search.
After a little more than six months on the job, he expressed confidence in the future of the system's 14 universities, declaring their future can be even brighter than their past.
"I say the future of this system is full of promise and possibility," Brogan said. "If we're willing to make smart -- sometimes difficult -- choices and strategic investments of our time and resources, the state system will continue to advance, and continue to fulfill, its promise to Pennsylvania for decades to come.
"We can do nothing less for our students, who arrive on our campuses every year full of fresh hopes and dreams for their own futures. In a few weeks, thousands of those students will walk across the stage on graduation day, ready to start the next chapter in their lives -- confident in the knowledge and skills they have gained at one of our universities. We must do all we can to ensure thousands more will have that same opportunity."
PASSHE, led by its forward-thinking board of governors, already had made significant strides to ensure that long-term future by providing greater flexibility to the universities and encouraging greater collaboration among the universities to make the greatest use of available resources, Brogan said.
In January, the board granted five universities permission to adjust their tuition and fees to better address their individual program costs and enrollment demands. Additional flexible tuition proposals, developed by the universities themselves, are under consideration.
Over the past few years, the board also has refined the program-review process so that proposals submitted by the universities can be acted on more quickly, especially when they are tied to immediate workforce needs.
The universities have been working together to address critical needs in the healthcare industry across the commonwealth. Over the last several months, four universities -- Bloomsburg, Clarion, Edinboro and West Chester -- have received approval to offer new doctoral degrees in nursing that will help provide advanced care nurses in virtually every region of the state.
"As our universities reposition themselves to meet the demands and fiscal realities of both today and tomorrow, our focus must be laser sharp so that we can best prepare our students to be successful in their careers and in their lives, as leaders in the new economy," Brogan said.
PASSHE, which comprises Pennsylvania's 14 public universities, is receiving essentially the same level of state funding it did in 1997-98 -- 17 years ago -- even though the schools are currently enrolling 15,000 more students than they did then. That statistics takes into account recent enrollment declines -- driven by the state's changing demographics.
"Our university leaders have done an extraordinary job of managing their budgets through six consecutive years of reduced or level state appropriations," Brogan said. "They have done so even while our annual tuition increases in most of those years have been held at or below the rate of inflation.
"It hasn't been easy, and has required us all to make very difficult -- even painful -- decisions that affect programs and people. It has forced all of us to think long and hard about how to best position our universities for the future."
More difficult decisions lie ahead, the chancellor said. The universities will make the necessary adjustments to ensure their programs remain relevant and that available resources are focused "on what students want and the commonwealth needs."
"To that end -- and as a means of assisting the universities in these efforts -- we will conduct a region-by-region gap analysis to determine where shortages of educated workers exist and how our universities can help address those shortages with new or expanded programs," Brogan said.
The universities also will look to expand online learning opportunities to better serve current students and to open up new opportunities for others, the chancellor said.
"There are thousands of individuals in the commonwealth who started a degree program at one our PASSHE schools, but left before completing it -- for financial, academic, or any number of personal reasons," Brogan said. "I firmly believe we can meet these students where they are and identify online opportunities that will enable them to complete a degree or certificate and take one more step up the career ladder."
The PASSHE universities are vital players in the state's economy; 90 percent of the students who attend the institutions are Pennsylvania residents; 80 percent remain in the commonwealth immediately after graduation to take their first job or to continue their education in graduate school. Most will remain here to live, to work and to raise their families. More than 500,000 PASSHE university alumni live in Pennsylvania.
"No one can question the value of these universities to their communities and to the commonwealth," Brogan said. "Pennsylvania needs PASSHE to be successful. Our students need us to be successful. And, working together, I am convinced the best days for the state system are yet to come."
All costs related to the investiture ceremony were funded through private donations received from Highmark, the Pennsylvania State Employee Credit Union and M&T Bank.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth, with about 112,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study.
(Note: For the full text of Chancellor Brogan's State of the System address, visit: www.passhe.edu.)
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.