Pennsylvania system gears up for major faculty, program cuts

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Dive Brief:

  • Five universities within the financially struggling Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education intend to lay off more than 100 full-time faculty members by the end of the academic year. 

  • The faculty, who are tenure or tenure-track, received notice Friday their jobs could be eliminated in what would be the biggest retrenchment in the system’s history, according to its faculty union. PASSHE institutions are also cutting temporary or adjunct positions.

  • The move comes as PASSHE plans to combine six of its campuses into two entities, though officials have shared few details about the process.

Dive Insight:

PASSHE’s troubles date back a decade, as shifting demographics and a hypercompetitive postsecondary environment caused its enrollment to plummet. It has lost more than 20% of its students since 2010. 

The coronavirus aggravated the system’s financial challenges, and in April, Chancellor Dan Greenstein accelerated its cost-cutting plans, which mean to save $250 million across its 14 campuses within two years. Those include returning faculty-student ratios to their 2010-11 levels, which was when enrollment peaked. This would increase class sizes.

A system spokesperson declined to take a position on faculty layoffs in an interview with Education Dive in September, saying campuses could decide how to achieve cutbacks. 

In a statement emailed to Education Dive on Friday, the system drew attention to its financial challenges. PASSHE is looking to “reshape” public higher ed in the state, and its universities “are doing their part to improve the alignment of costs with revenues and to evolve,” the statement reads. 

The system’s influential faculty union presented the cuts as a far more dire scenario. Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said in a statement they take away student opportunities and leave professors without their livelihoods and healthcare during a global health crisis. 

The job cuts are not final, but universities needed to notify the professors by Oct. 30 if they were at risk of being let go, according to the union’s contract. Martin said in the release that the union would work locally and at the state level to find alternatives to the cuts. Professors could also move departments or to another PASSHE university, but openings are far less likely this year. 

The bulk of the likely layoffs are at two universities: Indiana and Edinboro, both of which are preparing program cuts. The other institutions affected are Cheyney, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities. 

Three of those universities — Lock Haven, Edinboro and Mansfield — are among the six the system is looking to combine. California, Clarion and Edinboro universities would function as a single unit specializing in online education, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield would focus on stackable and nondegree credentials, PASSHE officials have said. 

But scarce information about the integrations has rattled system faculty and staff. 

The system spokesperson previously told Education Dive details have not been worked out, but in a recent news release, PASSHE said the two groups of universities would function as a single accredited entity with “single leadership, faculty, enrollment management strategy, and budget while honoring local identity.” The release does not address merger-related layoffs.

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