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Mansfield University president speaks on board vote to integrate schools

“Focus on the opportunities for students,” said Dr. Charles Patterson, president of Mansfield University, commenting on the integration implementation plan approved by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors.

“This is about students. The whole plan is really student-focused and it’s meant to provide a greater range of academic programs and faculty expertise for an integrated institution beyond what a single institution like Mansfield would be able to provide by itself,” he said.

Under the plan, Patterson’s school will become part of the Northeast integrated university, which will also include Bloomsburg and Lock Haven University. A similar integration is planned for Edinboro, California and Clarion universities in the western part of the state.

Referencing the 439-page document detailing the integration plan, Patterson said, “While the program you see in this document, how the academic programs are distributed across the three campuses…it is estimated that this will almost double the number of bachelor’s programs at Mansfield from 27 to over 50.” He added that he thought Lock Haven University would also see a similar increase in course offerings under the integration model.

“By creating a single institution with three regionally distinct campuses, each supporting a shared academic program array the faculty in designing this have designed it in such a way to meet the educational and career goals of an increasingly diverse population of 21st century students,” he said.

Integration is part of PASSHE’s system redesign which began in 2016. Prompted by decreased enrollment, a changing student demographic and a decrease in financial support from the state, the idea was to have the integrated universities act a single accredited entity with a single faculty, leadership and budget while still allowing the universities that comprise it to maintain their unique identities. Many of the universities involved in the integration have existed since the 1800’s and the communities where they are located have developed around them.

“It’s really meant to kind of redesign the way we approach the availability of academic programs. That’s really the focus of this. How we allow these institutions to offer more opportunities for students than we could at Mansfield,” Patterson said.

“About 75 percent of our students across the three campuses are enrolled in eight academic programs. As we look at the delivery of these programs, they will be delivered in a traditional fashion, much the way they are now because we do not want to put those students at a disadvantage. Health professions, business and education those are really top disciplinary fields you will find on all three of these campuses. But within those fields, we would be able to provide additional areas of accounting and finance, marketing and nursing that one campus may not have by itself,” Patterson said.

Universities in the PASSHE system have also been on track to achieve financial stability by next year, which is another facet of system redesign.

“You approach sustainability by operating at scale,” Patterson said.

“As a smaller institution like Mansfield that has a smaller academic array that arguably attempts to meet the needs of the students in the region, we can only provide so much. There are programs that we cannot provide that students who are here in Tioga County, within our region, need access to. This provides a vehicle by which they can access those programs (and) still live in our communities, still seek credentials in the programs they desire,” he added.

Students who decide to change their major course of study after enrolling at Mansfield would also benefit from the broader array of course offerings, which would allow them to stay at the university and in the community.

While critics of the integration proposal cite courses that will be cut resulting in loss of faculty and with that auxiliary staff, Patterson said that there are no programs slated for elimination as part of the plan.

“I think you have to look at that as the program array comes around and the student demand on some of the campuses to say will this program in its integrated form meet the needs of these students here in this region or this campus, that’s part of an assessment that has to be done by the faculty in concert with the administration,” he said.

“I think to not have those discussions, if we don’t pursue integration, at many of these universities, we’re going to see that happen. We’re going to need to see the elimination of programs in order to reach sustainability. Looking at integration, it provides us greater opportunity to sustain these programs because we find that we’ll be able to reach more students at scale and expand the market share of opportunity for students,” he said.

Integration implementation plans are now in a 60-day comment period with a final board vote scheduled for July. The plan is available on the PASSHE website with instructions for commenting.

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