The Oct. 13–14 Board of Governors meeting took place in person and via Zoom and is streaming via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, university presidents and guests,
As always, I appreciate the opportunity to present remarks on behalf of the nearly 5,000 faculty and coaches that APSCUF represents. I would like to focus on a number of interrelated issues this afternoon: the enrollments at our universities, the funding of our universities, and the affordability of our universities.
Let’s start with the first: the enrollment numbers for the current academic year. We learned that enrollment dropped by approximately 5.4% systemwide and that the decline in enrollment was more significant at a number of universities. After about a 2% decline in enrollment last year, I am not surprised to see an ongoing pandemic effect. There may be some students who did not enroll in in-person classes because of concerns about pivoting to online learning. It is possible that some of our students’ parents are out of work or that students may have stayed in the workforce full time because of the number of jobs available now. It is possible that the uncertainty surrounding the consolidation played a role in the decline at the universities involved in this plan, and that retrenchments on our campuses had an impact. But what we are seeing here is similar to what is happening nationwide, and I expect that we will see the trend reverse in the next academic year. I am asking all of us — collectively — to not push the panic button. If our current and prospective students and their families see us panic, it could have a deleterious effect on next year’s enrollments.
Act 188 of 1982 was the enabling legislation for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. This legislation laid out, among other things, the purpose of our universities:
“The State System of Higher Education shall be part of the Commonwealth’s system of higher education. Its purpose shall be to provide high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.”
To accomplish this mission, the State System must be appropriately funded: The General Assembly must be willing to invest in our students. The support for the State System reached a highwater mark in 2010–11 of around $503 million — and then we suffered an 18% cut in appropriations from which we are still trying to recover. While we appreciate the funding that we do receive, the fact of the matter is that in the last 20 years, support for PASSHE has increased by only 1.25%.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of the cost of attendance that is covered by state appropriations has decreased dramatically. In 1990, state appropriations covered nearly 75% of the cost of attendance for our students. Last year, that amount dropped to approximately 24%. Think about that for a moment: Students are now responsible for 75% of the cost of attendance — at our state-owned universities. It is true that the cost of attendance at our universities has outpaced inflation, but the appropriations that PASSHE receives have not come close to trending with inflation. In fact, if they had kept pace, the current appropriations should be around $740 million.
So, what does this mean for the students of our Commonwealth? The ones who were promised by Act 188 the ability to attend a state-owned university and to receive a high quality education at the lowest possible cost. It means that these universities are no longer affordable for them. Can we ponder for a moment what the lack of affordability may mean to them?
Does it impact their ability to afford their books or technology? Does it impact their ability to afford to take an unpaid internship that could greatly benefit their career trajectory? Does it impact their ability to afford enough food, to afford to get enough sleep as they work multiple jobs, or to afford to be enrolled full time? After graduation, does it mean the inability to afford a car, or a home, or a family as they pay off mountains of student debt?
Affordability can mean many different things to many students, but I firmly believe that this is a contributing factor to our enrollment decline. Most importantly, research shows that the lack of affordability is disproportionately impacting students from primarily from low-income backgrounds, students of color and first-generation students — and these are the students that our system should be serving.
We are at an inflection point, and a very important question must be addressed: Are the universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education state-owned and state-supported universities — or not? Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states in per-capita investment in higher education. Again, we are at an inflection point: The State System needs to be adequately funded — or we should stop pretending that we are a state-supported system.
I believe that the enrollment decline is the result of a perfect storm. The ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc, and I think we are witnessing pandemic fatigue among our students. There is uncertainty on some of our campuses, and the fact that our state-owned universities are not adequately funded by the Commonwealth does not help enrollment. When students must take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt, enrolling in our universities is a more difficult financial decision. I’m fearful about what is going to happen moving forward: Inadequate funding only fuels a self-fulfilling prophecy and a vicious cycle of enrollment decline.
Tomorrow, the chancellor will present to the BOG his recommendation for the appropriations request for PASSHE. We hope that he will recommend a significant increase in funding for our universities and that the board will support it. As you know, APSCUF has always been a strong advocate for additional funding for our State System, and we will continue that work — and we are willing to work in tandem with the State System to make the case for the need for it.
Thank you again for the opportunity to offer remarks today.
The Sept. 22 Board of Governors meeting took place via Zoom and streamed via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, university presidents and guests,
Today this board will consider approving seven side-letter agreements to our collective bargaining agreement. One side letter applies to all 14 of our universities and will ensure faculty and students are provided with stability over the next few years. The remaining six are applicable to the six universities that are slated for consolidation. The APSCUF legislative assembly ratified all of the side letters at its meeting on Friday, Sept. 10, and we encourage you to approve them today.
We appreciate the spirit of cooperation that led to these agreements, but it required approximately eight months of negotiations to get to this ratification vote today. I highlight this because the side-letter agreements that pertain to California, Clarion, Edinboro, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities are just the first six side letters we have negotiated. They represent important articles in our collective bargaining agreement, and they will permit the development of the curriculum to begin, provide clarity regarding the leadership of academic departments, and specify the procedures that will be in place as faculty members progress in their careers. But, I must note that there is much still to do. By our count, there are at least 13 other articles we must bargain over because they will be affected by consolidation. We will continue to negotiate with the State System on the other affected articles in our collective bargaining agreement in the months ahead. But, in short, there is a long road ahead.
At the July Board of Governors meeting, I highlighted many issues and questions that must be addressed prior to the consolidation of these six universities — an action that is scheduled to occur in 10 months. Questions remain about Middle States accreditation and accredited programs on our campuses. We still await the decision of the NCAA permitting athletic teams to remain on all six campuses. Students and faculty remain wary of the number of online classes that may be required to complete a degree. We anticipate that work on the curriculum will soon begin, but we know that the plan is for a three-year implementation of the curriculum array, and it is our belief that it will take that long.
There remains much uncertainty and anxiety regarding consolidation on these six campuses, among the students (both current and prospective), faculty and staff. This process — coupled with the retrenchments that occurred at four of our campuses last year and the threats of retrenchment this year — has left many feeling defeated, and all of this is happening while faculty struggle to offer face-to-face classes in a safe way amidst the ongoing pandemic. The combination of these things has negatively impacted morale on a number of our universities. I can tell you from my visits to our campuses and meetings with our chapter presidents that our faculty are exhausted as they begin this new academic year: This is not typical, and that makes it alarming. I urge the university presidents here today to recognize the legitimacy of these feelings among our faculty, as you call upon them to do some heavy lifting in the coming months.
I began my comments today speaking about the spirit of cooperation, and I want to end on that note. We can all agree that the mission of our universities is to provide access to an affordable, high-quality education for the students of our Commonwealth and beyond. As faculty and coaches, we see firsthand how critical affordability is for our students and student-athletes. We know the importance of increased funding for our universities — and for the students enrolled in them. I pledge today that APSCUF will continue to work with the State System in advocating for the funding necessary to keep the promise of affordability and access to a high-quality education for students from all backgrounds.
Thank you for your time, and I wish all of you and your families continued good health.
Shippensburg University student Noah Stewart is the 2021 award winner of State APSCUF’s $3,000 scholarship, selected by APSCUF’s special-services committee. Stewart is the son of Shippensburg APSCUF member Associate Professor Richard Stewart. The scholarship recipient is a graduate biology major. Click here to read more about him.
APSCUF offers a scholarship to relatives of APSCUF or APSCURF members in good standing. The 2021 application will be available in late 2021 on the Students page of the APSCUF website.
“This is going to be a long road ahead,” APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin said about university consolidations during an August episode of “Behind the Headlines.” “The vote by the board in July was the first step of many. We still have a lot of unanswered questions about accreditation, questions about the NCAA decision to allow sports or athletic teams at all six campuses, questions about curriculum, and a lot of questions about exactly how this will look at the end of the day. And so this should be an iterative process. And as we get answers to some of these questions, there could be modifications to the original plan — or changes to it. So we’re carefully watching … We also have a collective bargaining agreement, and so we’ve got to work through that process and determine how that will look whenever we have a new university that’s three campuses but one president, one accreditation, those kinds of issues.”
Martin also discussed COVID-19 and the return to the fall semester.
“We had advocated for this strongly through our meet-and-discuss processes that there should be, at the very least, a mask mandate,” she said. “And so we’re happy to see that all 14 universities have done that … We would certainly support and advocate for a vaccine mandate.”
Click here to read Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education’s statement encouraging COVID vaccination. Martin is among the union leaders who signed the message.
Click here to read about the State System and COVID-19 vaccines in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
I must admit that, as a new transfer student from a private university, I had no concept of faculty unions or what purposes they served beyond the faculty. However, when I noticed APSCUF’s focus on social justice, equitable education and worker solidarity, that message resonated more than any other internship posting I explored. Public relations and government relations: How could an internship get any better than that? Upon meeting Sean and Kathryn, APSCUF staff members, in the interview, I knew I needed this internship.
As an English major with a determined interest in social justice and activism, I wanted the experience of collaborating with academic professionals and policy-makers. I threw myself into learning everything about the State System redesign plans, and I recognized the importance of sharing information and making details accessible to all affected parties. APSCUF helped me recover my passion for public speaking and speech writing through the Nellie Bly press conference and the public hearings on consolidation. From transcribing videos, researching student debt and writing profiles, I feel the opportunities in this internship dwarf other experiences in my college career.
There are so many compassionate, talented individuals working at APSCUF, and I have to agree with former intern Kyle Bower when he wrote that APSCUF is a “lovable group that nurtured my (his) development.” I couldn’t agree more. Jamie, Kathryn, Sean,Ty, Bim, Chris, Mary Rita, Beth, Chabria, Katie and every single person at the State APSCUF office all truly care. Each of these State APSCUF employees contribute to the mission of APSCUF. From meeting these individuals, I learned about leadership, communication, politics, administration, retirement benefits, research, arbitration, finances, labor relations and planning. As an intern, you are granted a place in this incredible community. Yes, meeting senators and representatives is exciting; however, meeting individuals with the wealth of knowledge that APSCUF staff possess is absolutely unrivaled.
I will never forget the knowledge I gained from current APSCUF and APSCURF members, and I will promote the importance of unions, which are integral to the success of individuals and their communities. President Jamie Martin exemplified the qualities of leadership, which all organizers can only hope to demonstrate, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Kathryn and Sean expanded my view of higher education and public policy, and they encouraged me to explore so many options I never viewed as possible prior to meeting them. Their guidance elevated my professional experience to a different level, and Pixel, Kathryn’s cat and the APSCUF mascot, filled my heart with joy every time she joined a remote meeting.
Beyond the sappy goodbyes and my heartfelt thanks for their advice, I discovered a deeper message that all State System students should hear at some point in their college career. Regardless of your major, or what people may say about your desired career path, the APSCUF internship taught me to utilize the skills I have and how I can apply them to a diverse range of situations. If you do not apply to this internship, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Forever humbled by the work of everyone at APSCUF,