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Universities may Break-away from State System 

March 12, 2014- Don Rooney
HARRISBURG- State Senators from both sides of the aisle have thrown their support behind legislation that would allow financially secure universities to break away from the State System of Higher Education. 
 
Senators Dinniman and Tommy Tomlinson, a Republican from Bucks County, have proposed bipartisan legislation that would enable universities that meet certain criteria to transfer out of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The senators said their legislation would give universities in the system greater independence and flexibility in meeting financial challenges and academic and enrollment needs.

The legislation would allow PASSHE schools who can afford it to purchase their buildings and property from the State System, bringing millions of dollars into the state system and providing an infusion of much-needed funds; PASSHE has a current debt of 61 million dollars. The system has also experienced a decline in enrollment in recent years; 12 of the 14 schools in the State System have lost as much as 18 percent of their enrollment.

Universities that qualify for a transfer under the legislation would become a state-related university, joining Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln Universities in that regard. In order to make the transfer, the institution must:

Have a student enrollment of more than 7,000.

Have an unqualified audit opinion for three years.

Have the financial ability to compensate the state for the depreciated value of its property.

Continue to contribute to the employer share for pension obligations.

The university’s chancellor would be required to put together a timeline in agreement with the institution's council of trustees on the transfer process. Collective bargaining agreements in place at the time of the transfer will remain in force for the term of the contract. New collective bargaining contracts would be negotiated by the university.

State Sen. John Wozniak today released the following statement regarding the introduction of legislation that would allow certain universities to leave the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education:

“The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education was created to broaden the availability of higher education and create opportunity for many who would otherwise not be able to afford college. Over the past four years, we have asked the system to do the impossible -- to fulfill its mandate with ever-dwindling financial support from the state.

Privatizing schools that are in the best financial condition would not simply mean more difficulty for the remaining schools, but it would be, in fact, contrary to the PSSHE mission and the American principle of opportunity for all.  Asking the state system schools to rein in tuition costs and provide a high-quality education in the face dwindling public support defies the reality faced by educators across America.

The state system is more than lines on a ledger and its mission goes well beyond the keeping the doors open and the lights on. These schools mean opportunity for every student without regard to economic or social status. Allowing the system to disintegrate would be abandoning that mission and the end of notion of equal opportunity.”

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