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LHU, Mansfield University alliance will bring pain, but also gain

While we are sad to see the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education launch a study into essentially unifying Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities under one budget, one president, one faculty and a combined array of degrees, it is not surprising.

Not in the current environment brought on by the pandemic.

But surely, with high school graduation rates to again slump in coming years, a refocus was necessary after a decade of declining student population pretty much across all 14 state-run universities.

If ultimately the schools are combined, there will be pain.

But there also will be gain.

An integration of these two fine institutions offers an opportunity for a restart — a fresh look at what degree programs are working and are needed, and what new programs beyond the traditional four- or even two-year degrees may be established.

A fresh look at building needs.

A fresh look at online degree offerings to provide flexibility.

For sure, nothing replaces one-on-one classroom instruction and we fully support that approach first and foremost.

Dr. Robert Pignatello, Lock Haven University president, said the integrations will initially involve a financial review of both institutions. As the planning process moves forward, it will be “highly consultative, seeking feedback from all stakeholders across each university.”

The planning phase is expected to take about a year with new unified operational models in place for fall 2022.

There is no predetermined outcome. The PASSHE board of governors will assess the ability of paired institutions to operate under a unified leadership team reporting through the chancellor.

And this is worth repeating, as expressed by Dr. Pignatello: “It would also assess the ability to have a single faculty and staff, a single academic program array, a unified enrollment strategy, and a single budget, all while honoring the local identity of the original institutions.”

We are hopeful PASSHE will keep this process transparent — so far as we’re concerned, it has an ethical and legal responsibility to do so because taxpayer dollars are at stake.

We are also hopeful that unionized faculty are flexible.

If this alliance takes place and is to be successful, all parties will have to compromise.

A fresh look at labor contracts really needs to be a part of creating a new, unified institution.

The newly integrated university must have the best and the brightest teaching our students. That must be one of the essentials if this moves beyond study.

At the same time the experts are looking at dollars, they MUST also look at needs.

Needs as in, what degree and credential programs are required in the “new normal?”

Needs as in, what skills do employers need?

Needs as in, how can we better inspire entrepreneurship?

Both schools have some strong programs.

In the end, we can surely agree the biggest result must be greater opportunity for our young people.

It is time to reshape our future.

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