Friday, September 1, 2017

Courage to Change

In my final blog as chancellor, I hope you’ll indulge a little reflection on my time with the State System. When I arrived here four years ago, a member of the General Assembly jokingly asked if I saw the billboard as I drove into the state that said, “Welcome to Pennsylvania. We don’t change anything.” We laughed at the time, but I have since come to realize it really wasn’t a joke.

In this remarkable place that my family and I have called home—this place that catalyzed American democracy; this place that values education; this place I have grown to love—we are in danger of losing the very thing we cherish if we’re not careful.

The State System represents the best hope for affordable, accessible, quality education for our sons and daughters, but we must be willing to change in order to ensure its existence for the next generation, and the generations after that.

Over the past four years, we’ve sounded the alarm regarding the challenges facing our 14 universities—from fluctuating enrollment, to lagging state funding, to skyrocketing operational costs. We’ve also undertaken a hard look at our State System—top to bottom—including a thorough external review to provide us even more insights.

And that is what we received.

In July, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) presented its recommendations as part of our Strategic System Review. NCHEMS was clear that the report is not a commentary on the people in place today; rather, it’s an estimation of how decades of inertia and aversion to change have hindered the ability of people to do their jobs. Things have to change, and the real heavy lifting is only beginning.

The Board of Governors will continue to gather stakeholder input—working with our talented students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and others— as it identifies next steps in the Strategic System Review. What’s crystal clear is that Pennsylvania needs the State System’s 14 universities to continue providing access to opportunity and to help fuel the economy.

Earlier this year, my family and I decided that this fall would be a good time for the next transition of our life, so I informed the Board of my decision to retire from the State System. Throughout four decades of public service—most of it in education—I've always believed that true leadership requires one thing above all: courage. In my estimation, it took real courage for the leaders of this system to launch the Strategic System Review in the first place—courage to tackle fundamental systemic issues that have lingered for decades.

Every leader wants to leave an organization better than he or she found it. Certainly we’ve made some changes that will better position the State System for the future (securing increased funding three years in a row; updating policies and procedures to enhance local flexibility; creating tools to make data-informed decisions for the future). But, the most important thing we’ve done is open the door for an honest, candid, strategic dialogue about how the State System will evolve.

This is our opportunity to make bold choices that will have a lasting impact for decades to come. This is our “moonshot,” and I’m convinced the Board of Governors and the State System will have the courage to make the hard choices necessary to ensure the future is bright for our students. Let's watch it shine.

Monday, August 28, 2017


It’s a new year—one that promises to be full of possibilities and potential. This week, more than 100,000 students will be welcomed at the 14 universities within the State System by talented and dedicated faculty, staff, and administrators who are focused on one thing: student success.

Whether you’re a freshman arriving on campus for your first college experience, a transfer student from another institution, a returning undergraduate or graduate student, or a member of faculty, staff, or administration, you all have one thing in common: you are part of the State System family. That means you are part of something very special.

The State System continues to provide a high-quality, high-value experience all across the 14 universities that serve every region of the Commonwealth. That educational experience is what it is because of YOU. Each and every one of you contribute—in your own way—to elevating the experiences we all have. And for that, we say thank you.

So, as the year unfolds ahead of us, be sure to stay focused on success, reach for greatness, and make it a year you’ll never forget.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No “lazy days” of summer

When we think of summer, we typically conjure up images of warm weather, vacations, and a slower-than-usual pace in activity. That couldn’t be farther from the truth for our students, faculty, staff, university leaders, trustees, and board members.

Whether teaching summer courses on campus or online or guiding students through an international experience abroad, our talented faculty continue to provide learning opportunities that
contribute mightily to our students’ success. And the students who take advantage of these opportunities—or employment and internship experiences—understand that hard work is what will set them apart after they graduate.

Outside the classroom, the volunteers who comprise the universities’ Councils of Trustees and the System’s Board of Governors are contributing their time, energy, and resources to ensure we are able to continue to meet the needs of current and future students. Not only are they heavily involved in our Strategic System Review, they continue to be engaged in System planning and other activities related to the future of our universities. (Click
HERE to offer your input on the Strategic System Review.)

Finally, we are all busy continually advocating for an increased investment from the General Assembly to support our mission of providing affordable, high-value, high-quality education to students. You can lend your voice to that effort by emailing or writing your legislator and encouraging them to support greater funding for the State System. (Click
HERE to find your legislator online.)

You may not run into us at the beach or on the hiking trail, but we’ll be getting ready for a great year in 2017-18. It’ll be here before you know it.

Enjoy the summer.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You can help shape the future of the State System

As you likely know, the Board of Governors has been undertaking a strategic review of the entire State System, including the Office of the Chancellor and all 14 universities. The goal of the review is to ensure that we are organized to meet the needs of students and the changing needs of Pennsylvania for decades to come. 

A team from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) is assisting with the review and has been meeting with students, faculty, staff, and others to gather insights. They also want to hear directly from you. As we approach the end of the semester, we want to be sure you have an opportunity to provide input directly to NCHEMS, which has created a website through which you can track the status of the review and share your thoughts. 

Together, we can shape an even brighter future for the State System and all 14 universities—a future that ensures we hold true to our mission of providing a high-quality, affordable higher education. Please take a few minutes and provide your input at

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Students take center stage

At each quarterly Board of Governors meeting, we have a special “student spotlight” to focus on examples of how our students—working alongside talented faculty—are accomplishing remarkable things. The April meeting was no different, except that we had even more opportunities to celebrate students even beyond the student spotlight:
  • the State System’s Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence was given to Sarah Polinski of Mansfield University; 
  • previous winners of the Student Business Plan Competition shared how winning helped them make their business ideas a reality while this year’s winner, Nathaniel Treichler of Bloomsburg University, was announced; and 
  • art and design students from East Stroudsburg University demonstrated the capability of 3D printing and how they are putting it to good use in the community. In fact, they did a live demonstration of this technology by doing a 3D scan of my head (go ahead, insert your own jokes here.)
We are also pleased to report that three students have taken their places on the Board. A little over a week before the April meeting, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously confirmed these student leaders who were nominated by Gov. Wolf to serve on the Board. Shaina Hilsey (CalU), Brian Swatt (IUP), and Logan Steigerwalt (Slippery Rock) are the elected heads of student government at their home universities and will serve on the Board of Governors until they graduate. The students are full, voting members of the Board of Governors and have an equal voice in helping to steer the future direction for our State System and its 14 universities. That seems fitting because everything we do—the very reason our universities exist—is for the students.

Looking at the caliber of the students we met with last week, I know the future of the State System and the Commonwealth is in very good hands.

Friday, March 3, 2017

You are our best advocate

During our State of the System address earlier this semester, Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira and I discussed the pivotal year that lies ahead for the State System and our 14 universities—including the many opportunities that can help ensure their long-term sustainability.
We often use the phrase Infinite Opportunities when referring to what our state-owned universities can—and do—provide students and their families, but Infinite Opportunities can also refer to the many ways you can advocate for the continued investment in our universities.
We are very appreciative of the fact that Governor Wolf proposed a third straight year of increased investment in the State System. His support and that of the General Assembly underscores the value of our state-owned universities for the Commonwealth. Despite those increased investments, our current appropriation is about the same as we received in 1999, even though we are serving thousands more students today.

We are seeking an investment of $61 million over our current funding amount, and we need your help to make the case on behalf of our talented students, faculty, and staff. Everyone who believes in the State System’s mission to provide high-quality, affordable higher education has the opportunity to share their stories demonstrating the important role our 14 universities have in helping to secure Pennsylvania’s future.

Individuals have the most powerful stories to tell, so I encourage you to share your stories regarding why your State System university matters to you, your family, your business, or your community. Use the hashtags #InvestinOURuniversities and #fundPAfuture as you post encouraging and positive messages, images, and videos in social media.

The more we advocate together and remind the Commonwealth how our universities shape the future, the stronger our universities will be for years to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gaining a competitive edge

When our students return to campus next week after a well-deserved break, those competing in the 2016-2017 State System Business Plan Competition will be busy putting the final touches on months’ of work that will be judged by a panel of business experts. Thanks to private sponsors, we will be awarding $17,000 in cash investments that will help get three of the most promising business plans off the ground. While we often talk about the winners, and rightfully so, what shouldn’t be forgotten is all of the hard work that goes into getting each of the 200+ business plans ready for center stage.

Perhaps the best way for me to convey the lasting impact of this competition is through the eyes of a former student who competed in 2012-2013 and who now helps support current students with their own business development efforts. Joshua Domitrovich, who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Clarion University, is the coordinator for career mentoring and internships at Clarion’s Center for Career and Professional Development. While Joshua was a student, Dr. Kevin Roth introduced him to the competition during an entrepreneurship course.

Joshua assisted his classmate, Andrew Naugle, with developing Maddie’s Promise—a non-profit designed to provide elderly individuals with the opportunity to make one last wish a reality. While the plan didn’t win, Joshua found the experience he gained in the process immeasurable: the exposure to successful high-profile professionals, the feedback he received to make the plan a reality, and the relationships he developed with faculty.

I encourage everyone across the State System to congratulate all of the students who made the commitment to this competition last fall, and to thank the faculty and administrators who have helped them along their journey. We know that each student will walk away with the skills they need to compete.