Breaking News — Pennsylvania to Consolidate Six State Regional Colleges

Pennsylvania’s students and their parents have some big changes coming if they are considering attendance at any of the 14 regional state universities.

Just short of two years ago the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced it would integrate six of the state’s fourteen regional state universities. It was unclear whether this would entail closing one or more of the colleges. On Monday, the PASSHE Board of Governors published its proposed plan for integration of the six colleges and also scheduled hearings to be held this week.

Integration of the six colleges will be done under a Northeast integration plan and a Western integration plan. Based on their location in the state, Bloomsburg University, Lock Haven University and Mansfield University would comprise the Northeast integration and the Western integration would consist of California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University and Edinboro University.

As reported by Inside Higher Education, “Dozens of alumni of state public universities, as well as state residents, have expressed concern that PASSHE chancellor Daniel Greenstein is rushing into consolidation without first pushing the state Legislature to better fund the system.”

What does appear to be rushed is the scheduling of the Board of Governors’ public meeting to consider the proposal. The Board of Governors public meeting was held this morning at 8:30 and was streamed live via Zoom at http://www.passhe.edu/meeting. The agenda included time for public comment, and board members also considered whether to initiate a 60-day public comment period. The State Senate appropriations and education committees are planning to hold a public hearing on the plans Thursday.

Inside Higher Education also reported that “Save Our State Schools, a public advocacy group that has challenged the consolidation effort, will host an online event Wednesday to discuss a response to the new plans. The faculty union will also hold a press conference and virtual rally that afternoon.”

According to the plans, each consolidated university will have one president who will report to the Board of Governors through the chancellor. At the same time, each group of three colleges will be joined under a university to be named sometime this summer. The result will be a PASSHE system comprised of 10 accredited universities.

The consolidated universities would also have a shared enrollment management strategy and student support services, such as academic advising, financial aid, health and wellness counseling, library services, and career counseling. However, the plans recommend that each college retain its own name and branding and maintain current NCAA Division I and Division II sports at each individual institution.

The objective is to achieve economy and efficiency of services while providing greater educational opportunity to students. A primary goal is to reduce the total cost of degree attainment by 25 percent per student. This goal would be achieved by reducing the time to earn a degree through expanded program availability, high school dual enrollment, reduced operating expenses and additional fundraising success.

At this time, the best advice is to keep alert to news reports of legislative hearings and the opinions of groups with interest in the outcome of these plans. More information is also available at the PASSHE website.

Lessons From Jason’s Experience

Last week we asked you to review Jason’s path to his difficult student loan burden and questionable job prospects as college graduation is just a month away. I’ll touch on some of the key points where Jason could have made his current position a much happier one. See how many of these points you picked up and whether you agree with what I have to say about each.

Because space in this post is limited, I’ll focus on Jason’s choices after he arrived at college and I won’t comment on his student loan debt because we’ve addressed that in previous posts. First, however, a brief word about what you should be thinking of while you’re still in high school, the sooner the better.

You and your parents should recognize that school counselors are often overworked counseling those with serious personal difficulties. Therefore, they often don’t have time for counseling about postsecondary education choices and career counseling. That said, it’s important that you make good course choices in your freshman year because some courses later on will require you to have taken specific prerequisite courses. This requires planning before you even enter high school.

Once in high school, a good alternative to relying solely on your school counselor is to develop relationships with your HS teachers so that you can ask them for guidance about career possibilities and what courses you need to study. These relationships with you will also enable them to write detailed, believable letters of recommendation for your postsecondary choice, be that college, trade school, an apprenticeship or the military.

Now, to some key points in Jason’s postsec journey.

Don’t go to college just because your friends are. All of Jason’s friends were planning on attending college and even though Jason had little interest in school, had below average grades and didn’t have any specific goals for college, he went along with “what everyone else was doing.”

Simply going along with what everyone else is doing almost always is a bad idea. And bad ideas usually don’t work out very well.

Have good reasons for going to college. Because Jason didn’t have any clear idea of why he was going to college, he would have been better off to seek some guidance about why attending college would be a good idea and why an alternative might be a better idea for him. He could have asked for an appointment with his counselor, spoken with one or more teachers who could help and he could have spoken to the uncle he eventually asked to cosign two student loans.

For students who are as unclear about their postsecondary course as Jason was, it is often better to take time out to get counseling and to clarify what to do next. Unlike college, this doesn’t require you to pay a substantial deposit, often unrefundable, while you make up your mind about what to do next.

Choosing a major is important. Check before you choose. Having decided to go to college without really knowing why, Jason should not have declared a major. Instead, he should have taken required freshman year courses while he looked more specifically into the majors offered by the college. Eventually, Jason changed his major twice before settling on a major in physical therapy.

The major you choose may also determine how much you earn. Payscale is a company that tracks salaries and has published a College Salary Report listing starting salaries and mid-career salaries for 834 different college majors. While the stated salaries are national rather than specific to different locations where they might be higher or lower, they do give some indication of salary expectations for specific college majors. Note, however, that a low starting salary for a history major, for example, is questionable. Unless the college history major becomes a history teacher/professor or an historian, there’s no reason to believe that student will be “doing history” as a career. Instead, history majors and English majors enter careers where their income is typically much more than what is listed in the Payscale report.

Alert! Students and parents! The important point here is that each time Jason changed his major, the courses he took did not count toward graduation. This means that the tuition money, fees and book costs were all lost. Still worse, more tuition money, fees and book costs would have to be paid for the second major and, finally, his physical therapy major. This required Jason to take a fifth year to graduate, costing not only more student loan debt but also lost income from what would have been his first year of employment.

Graduate in four years or less. Sadly, only 41 percent of bachelor’s degree students graduate in four years (EduactionData.org). The national six-year college completion rate is 60 percent (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center) while millions of students who entered college never earned a degree. Inside Higher Education reported that the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that as of December 2018, 36 million people from the Center’s database had attended college since 1993 but then failed to earn a credential at any U.S. institution and were no longer enrolled in college.

Study the best you can. Earn the highest GPA you can. Because Jason didn’t have any clear purpose in attending college, he wasn’t motivated to discipline himself, study harder and complete college with a better GPA. Depending on the field of employment, a student’s GPA will affect his ability to get hired even though his GPA will have less and less importance as he progresses in his career. In addition to his student loan debt, this is another hurdle Jason faces as graduation approaches.

Clearly, making decisions about your education and career are complicated and require information, good advice and time to consider the information and advice. More often than not, high school students and their parents put off thinking about these matters in part because these are not easy things to think about, in part because students and parents are continually busy.

But these matters will not relent. And so, it is much better to consider them early on rather than waiting for senior year, which is a wonderful time on the one hand but also a time which is fraught with decision-making and stress and deadlines.

College Planning – Mistakes you don’t want to make

In recent posts we introduced you to Jason and his friends and the student loan problems they all have. Jason and two of his friends, Terrell and Kate, are seniors in college, just months away from graduation. Olivia is a junior. We focused on Jason and told you something of his loans.

To summarize, Jason has taken five years to get to graduation and has borrowed the maximum amount of federal student loans, a total of $31,000. Because no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans is permitted, the remaining $8,000 in federal loans is unsubsidized. Jason also has two private loans totaling $15,000 which his uncle cosigned. Jason’s first payment on his federal loans is not due until six months after graduation but his first private student loan payment is due 60 days after graduation.

Another factor is that Jason has not received a job offer, although he has been interviewing with various corporations for jobs in human resources. The average starting salary in human resources is $53,000. The rule of thumb is not to borrow more than your anticipated first year salary. Therefore, Jason should be able to repay his loans without difficulty, even with the accrued interest added to his loan total. But he’s going to have to upgrade his job search now.

A look back often helps us to see forward more clearly. So, let’s take a look at what contributed to Jason being where he is now.

Jason and his sister were raised by their mother after his father became gravely ill and died a short time later. Jason was just nine years old and his sister two. Jason’s mother had to work full-time and eventually earn enough money to keep the family together. In fact, she had done well enough that Jason was not eligible for a Pell grant when he applied for financial aid to college. (Students whose total family income is $50,000 a year or less qualify.)

During high school, Jason had taken a mix of business and machine shop courses as well as college prep courses in English, math and science, but he was not interested in school and graduated with just a little better than a C average. Nevertheless, along with his group of friends, he assumed he would go to college. He attended a less selective college among his state’s several regional colleges where he changed his major after freshman year to psychology and then to physical therapy. He will graduate with a GPA similar to his high school average.

Jason is not unlike many students. And like many students, his decision to attend college was made without considering any alternatives. Upon entering college, his goal was unclear and he changed majors twice. This extended his time to graduation, costing him another year of college as well as the lost income he would have earned if he had graduated on time. Additionally, this required borrowing more money for school and more time during which interest continues to accrue.

Your homework is the following:

  • review our previous four blog posts about Jason and student loans:

Jan. 10; Jan. 18; Jan. 26; Feb. 2

  • reread this post carefully; and
  • make up a list of things Jason might have done to change the outcome.

In our next post about Jason, we’ll discuss some of the ideas you suggest and some you might have missed.