The June 30 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 and guests,
I will keep my comments brief today, as we are all eager to hear how you have incorporated the hundreds of comments, concerns and suggestions about the plans to consolidate six universities into two. I hope everyone will digest all the feedback available from a variety of sources.
The most important theme from the comments was concern for the impact on our students. Speaker after speaker expressed concerns about the difficulties that students faced in taking their courses via distance learning during the pandemic. These included a lack of broadband access, distractions at students’ residences that interfered with their classes, declining participation/engagement, and a resulting decline in performance. Many commenters wondered how a forced hybrid model at “New U’s” will affect the residential experience of our students and how that may impact enrollments. A recent study, which the State System conducted, provides a clue.
The Blue Beyond Consulting Group conducted this student survey at the three northern universities slated for consolidation. More than 1,300 students from Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield responded to it. One of the first questions was this:
Imagine you are a potential incoming student for Fall 2022. With the new integrated university, you would have an expanded selection of majors to choose from but may have to take some classes via distance learning. How might the new array of offered programs and majors affect your decision to attend the integrated university?
The response to that question should raise concern, as approximately 60% of all students said they would be less likely to attend the New U.
Commenters wondered aloud about the program arrays that will exist across the campuses, and they asked questions about the location of departments at the New U’s. There are unanswered questions about the impact of consolidation on accredited programs, about the decision of the NCAA regarding athletic teams at the six campuses and about the number of online courses that students will be required to take.
I think we all agree that we must work together to improve our State System of Higher Education, and APSCUF is committed to partnering in that work. However, we believe that rather than doing something, we should strive to be certain that it is the right thing.
Students deserve answers to important questions, some of which I highlighted. Students at the six affected universities deserve face-to-face town-hall meetings when they return to campus in the fall. Based on the results of the student survey, it is imperative that student voices be heard and their questions and concerns addressed. If student input is not considered, and there are enrollment declines at the New U’s, how does that benefit our students? How does it help our students who rely on the universities in our State System to complete a degree and to improve their lives? Our students are the reason our State System exists, and we should all be willing to provide them an opportunity for input — and answers to their questions.
Thank you for your time.