Pennsylvania University System Aims to Increase Enrollment by 20%

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Diving brief:

  • The network of 10 public universities in Pennsylvania wants to increase enrollment by 20% over the next few years after seeing it drop over the past decade.
  • Dan Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, described the enrollment criteria at a meeting of its board of directors this week. PASSHE will aim to add an additional 18,000 students – 11,500 undergraduates, 3,400 graduate students and 3,000 who seek non-degree degrees.
  • Greenstein told the board of governors that increasing the number of graduates would help fill employment gaps in the state, including in sectors like education and health care.

Overview of the dive:

Pennsylvania’s demographics will be a headwind for PASSHE to meet its enrollment goals. The number of high school graduates in the state — where the system primarily attracts its students — has fallen over the past decade and is expected to fall further by 2036.

Enrollment in the system has plummeted for about a decade, from around 120,000 students in 2010 to around 88,000 now, in part due to the shortage of high school graduates. The state has also reduced the budget of PASSHE over the past 10 years, which has resulted in higher tuition fees by the system. System leaders said it drove out many low- and middle-income students it was supposed to serve.

PASSHE continued austerity measures, including a recent merger of six of its institutions in two, reducing the number of campuses in the system from 14 to 10. Greenstein said the consolidation, tuition freeze and additional money-saving efforts were intended to demonstrate to leaders of the state that the system was trying to change its practices.

These changes were part of a broader overhaul of the system, which has just entered its third and final phase.

And they have paid so far. Pennsylvania lawmakers provided a record $552.5 million for PASSHE’s operating budget, a 16% increase over the previous year and the largest one-year increase ever received. The state government also passed $125 million in federal coronavirus assistance to the system.

At the board meeting this week, Greenstein described the cash injection as restoring the confidence of state policymakers in the system. Now, to help meet employer demand, PASSHE needs to increase enrollment, he said.

He acknowledged that it is difficult to attract new students in the context of the expected decline in the number of high school graduates. Greenstein said the system would shift to helping PASSHE students who have historically failed to graduate — namely low-income and other disadvantaged populations — as well as the non-traditional mature student market.

He cited statistics showing that 60% of jobs in Pennsylvania require a post-secondary degree, but only about 50% of adults have one.

In a statement, Board Chair Cindy Shapira expressed her excitement for the system’s next steps.

“Higher education across the country is changing, and universities in the Pennsylvania state system are adapting to it,” Shapira said. “This innovative new phase of our system redesign will expand opportunities for students to help them enroll, succeed, graduate, and enjoy rewarding careers in Pennsylvania while strengthening universities for the future.”

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