Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Year of Potential and Promise

As an educator, this is my favorite time of year. With students returning for the start of a new academic year, college campuses everywhere are bursting back to life. Whether they are first-time freshmen or returning students, students’ faces beam with excitement, while those of their families and friends radiate with pride. They are all full of promise and potential.

In many ways, each new year starts the same—with our talented, dedicated faculty and staff preparing to welcome students to the 14 universities within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. But, for those who are coming to campus for the first time, there is nothing routine about this experience. No doubt, it can be both exasperating and exhilarating all at the same time.
I’ve always believed that when we embrace both the challenges and opportunities that come with new experiences, great things can happen. If you doubt that, just look at some of the phenomenal things students and faculty from each of our universities have accomplished. On our website (www.passhe.edu/stories), you can read stories about these remarkable people and their achievements.
As examples, read about an Edinboro student and a faculty member collaborating on cutting-edge forensic research; a Cheyney student who was selected to serve as an ambassador for an important White House initiative; an IUP student’s summer internship with electric car maker Tesla; and an East Stroudsburg alumna’s experience in the Peace Corps.
More than 100,000 students are back on campus at our State System universities. All of us must work together to help ensure each of those students receives the high-quality, high-value education they expect—and deserve.
As Pennsylvania’s public universities, we bear a special responsibility not just to our students, but to the entire Commonwealth. Nearly 90 percent of our students are Pennsylvania residents; almost 80 percent will remain here after earning their degree—to live, to work and to raise their families. In a very real way, Pennsylvania’s economic success depends on our universities’ success.
We must ensure the success and sustainability of the System, and the Board of Governors is committed to that. Our chairwoman, Cynthia Shapira, recently said, “We must define what it means to provide an excellent educational experience in our System.” Toward that goal, the Board of Governors is undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the State System. That review will engage all of our stakeholders and will involve asking important questions: What will this System look like in the next decade? What will our universities look like? How do we ensure our mission of providing a high-quality, high-value education?
As our students return for the fall semester and start another year of classes, we offer a special welcome to each, and a pledge to do our best to help them prepare for their futures, as challenging and promising as it might be.
Yes, these are interesting times, but we are optimistic that the System’s future can be brighter than its past.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summer doesn’t always mean “vacation”

If you’ve spent even a few minutes this summer on the social media pages of our 14 universities, you’ve probably seen photos of students and faculty doing great things across the globe—from Belize to Italy and everywhere in between. You also might have seen students and faculty continuing to support their campuses and local communities all summer long. Here are just a few examples:

  • At East Stroudsburg University, Dr. Beth Sockman and speech pathology student Kourtney Lark are researching the impact of the “E with J Scholars,” a cooperative relationship between a local elementary school and the university.
  • At California University, members of the Horticulture Club are tending to a vegetable garden and orchard. Produce from the garden has been served on campus, and the fruit is expected to go to the campus food pantry. 
  • At Kutztown University, members of the campus community joined others in the local community to plant a garden at the “Welcome to Kutztown” sign. The garden was designed by Brook Leister, a recent Kutztown graduate with a degree in environmental science, as her senior capstone project.
  • At Edinboro University, Dr. Mary Jo Melvin and Dr. Kristen Webber created a free summer reading experience in response to frequent requests from the parents of schoolchildren who struggle with reading. Students in undergraduate and graduate reading programs are working directly with the children.

Here at the State System office, the summer is always a busy time as we do our part to help the universities prepare for the Fall semester. While we are pleased that the General Assembly and the Governor have chosen to invest $10 million in additional funding for our universities this year, we know that advocacy is a year-round effort as we share the story of our 14 universities. Those countless stories—like the ones you’ve read about here—highlight how our students, faculty, and staff demonstrate their willingness and ability to positively impact their regions—economically and academically—in remarkable ways. They are what makes the State System such an integral part of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Important Decisions

The State System faces some important decisions to make again this year.

We are grateful for the additional 5 percent increase ($20.6 million) that was included in the 2015-2016 supplemental budget—the first new money our 14 state-owned universities have seen in eight years. This came after the Board of Governors had to make the tough decision to raise tuition—albeit modestly—after significantly cutting university budgets yet again last year. In fact, over the last decade $300 million has been trimmed from university budgets. The System is operating at a 1999 funding level while trying to compete in a 21st century educational environment.

Governor Wolf has recommended another 5 percent increase for the System in 2016-2017, and we are hopeful it will come to fruition as the Commonwealth works to create a balanced budget. This funding is vitally important as the faculty, staff, and administrators at our universities strive to meet the changing needs of more than 100,000 students across our System, who are our top priority.

Even if the System receives this increase, the System will still face a sizable deficit and will find it challenging to cover mandatory costs such as healthcare and pension contributions. This does not even take into account salary adjustments and contracts currently being negotiated.

You might remember that the System asked the General Assembly for a 20 percent increase earlier in the year to cover those costs and to provide new investment for programs and system enhancements. We’ve been working hard to advocate for greater investment. STEM degrees are the fastest growing areas of study in the System, both in terms of student demand and documented need across the Commonwealth. While these degrees are equipment- and technology-intensive, investment in these programs not only benefits our students, it also benefits the Commonwealth’s economic growth far into the future.

The System will continue to seek additional funding to fulfill its mission to provide a high-quality, high-value education to our students, but tough decisions related to budget cuts and tuition will still need to be made. We are committed to keeping tuition as low as possible and building on the renewed partnership with the Commonwealth as it considers greater investment in our public universities.

At the end of the day, the System’s goal remains the same: to offer a high-quality, high-value educational experience that prepares students for life, career, and the responsibilities of citizenship in this great Commonwealth and beyond.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The ultimate investment

This week, more than 17,000 students will participate in commencement ceremonies across the System, proving—yet again—why these students are worth the investment of the state’s financial resources. They are also worth the investment of time—the time our dedicated faculty spend to help students find the right major, develop a plan to get their degree, and help them achieve success.

One of those faculty members—Dr. Robert Ziegenfus, a professor of geography at Kutztown University—will be retiring after more than 33 years of service to his university and alma mater. He invested time into the university for two reasons: first, he wanted to serve the next generation of students as a way to repay, in some small way, the gifts he received when he was a student at Kutztown University; and, second, he hoped to serve as a role model for students to demonstrate that they, too, can be successful as a graduate. By all accounts, Dr. Ziegenfus succeeded at doing both.

So to our graduating class, don’t forget about the investment so many have made to see you succeed. While commencement is a time to celebrate your hard work with friends and family, be sure to say “thank you” to that special faculty member, staff person, or administrator for all the time and energy they’ve spent to help you achieve your goal.

And finally, I’ll leave our graduates with one last piece of advice from Dr. Ziegenfus:

“Commencement means, of course, to begin. To begin a new phase of life in graduate school or a career is entering into the largely unknown future. Graduates should do so with confidence while remembering this, too, requires more learning!”

Frank T. Brogan

Watch a special video message to the graduating class.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Everyone has a hand in student success

The State System’s annual Business Plan Competition provides student entrepreneurs a real-world opportunity to pitch their business plans and to win funds to assist in the start-up of their businesses. While last week’s awards ceremony highlighted the work of 10 finalists, including this year’s winner Blaise Delfino of East Stroudsburg University (ESU), the hard work all 223 teams put into their projects is a direct result of the support each received at their universities along the way.

For example, Blaise started graduate school at ESU in the Fall of 2015 and learned of the competition through the ESU Career Development Office. For his winning entry, he proposed developing ear plugs that provide hearing loss protection. ESU’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Center Coordinator, Gerald Ephault, met with Blaise weekly to go over his business plan and provided him with contacts and ideas to implement his concept. Perhaps most notable, three faculty members in the Speech-Language Pathology Department—Drs. Susan Dillmuth-Miller, LuAnn Batson-Magnuson, and Rachel Wolf—were part of Blaise’s research team that helped measure the effectiveness of the product. Their experience was invaluable to the ultimate success of his business plan.

I’m certain similar stories would be told by many of the participants, which reaffirms the fact that our students’ success as entrepreneurs cannot be achieved alone. Our dedicated faculty and staff support students and go the extra mile every day. As Blaise so eloquently pointed out, “faculty members truly care about the success of their students.” I couldn’t agree more.

On behalf of the entire State System, I offer congratulations to all the students who participated in the 2016 Business Plan Competition and express sincere gratitude to everyone behind the scenes for making student success a priority across the system.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Access, Success, and Completion

“Access, Success, and Completion” was the focus of the second annual joint meeting of the State System and Community College presidents and chief academic officers this Wednesday in Harrisburg. This was another historic meeting between these public higher education partners that continue to work together to better serve the students of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Did you know that nearly half of the new undergraduate students who transferred to the State System’s 14 universities last year came from one of the 14 community colleges of Pennsylvania? That’s an impressive number, but we can do more. A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce notes that, by 2020, 60% of jobs in Pennsylvania will require some post-secondary education or training. In order to fill this demand, partnerships and collaborations that remove barriers and focusing on access will be vitally important.

The landmark Reverse Transfer Agreement that was announced during Wednesday’s meeting is a great example of how both the universities and community colleges are committed to improving student completion rates. The agreement will allow State System students who began their studies at a Pennsylvania community college to receive their associate’s degree while continuing their education. Those who earned at least 45 credits at their community college before transferring to the university are able to reverse transfer credits back to their community college once they have earned enough to apply for an associate’s degree, at no additional cost.

Why is this so important? The completion of an associate’s degree would enhance the student’s earning potential as they work toward a bachelor’s degree, certification, or other credential from a State System university.

I applaud our community college and university leaders for taking this step forward, together. It’s crucial for all of us to continue to think of ways to partner with others to better meet the needs of students and employers.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

100,000+ Students: A Worthy Investment

By now, you’ve already heard the numbers: 90 percent of students who attend State System universities are Pennsylvania residents, and 80 percent of all graduates will remain in Pennsylvania after graduation and go on to contribute to the state’s economic future.

But who are these students we so often talk about? Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to know Drew Johnson, East Stroudsburg University’s Student Senate president, as he joined me on a panel that appeared before both the House and Senate appropriations committees during the State System’s 2016-17 budget hearings. Drew spoke from the heart about how the lack of funding is affecting the educational experience of students at all 14 universities. Members of the General Assembly appreciated his openness and thoughtful remarks.

Drew is just one example of the many students who are worth our investment, and I’d like to introduce you to a few more:

Edinboro University student Katherine McAtee aspires to be a speech language pathologist to work with children to help overcome speech delays or impediments; IUP student Erika Fenstermacher will pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology thanks to the opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate; Mansfield University student Marquise Isaac-Rivers will continue his education with the goal of being a leader in student affairs; and Bloomsburg University student Rebecca DeMuth believes everyone has the right to a healthy environment and plans to make a difference in the world through environmental justice.

Browse through our “Invest In Me” site, where you can see more students who are worth the investment. They are helping with a social media advocacy campaign designed to let the voices of our 100,000+ students be heard leading up to the 2016-17 State System’s Advocacy Days at the Capitol (April 5-6) .

When the Commonwealth invests in our State System universities and students, there is a tangible, measurable return on that investment—many times over. So, now is the time to invest!