July 24, 2017
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Kathryn Morton,  or 717-236-7486

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems last week posted its full report of its study of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties has released the following statement through its executive council:

APSCUF stands ready to work with Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education to engage in positive dialogue about how we can best work together to provide a high-quality university education at an affordable cost. We have never been afraid to engage ideas; to do so would run counter to all of our instincts as educators. The study clearly presents the perspective of the NCHEMS organization, and dialogue should quickly ensue about the recommendations within the context of what is possible and within the understanding of the limits of the NCHEMS report.

From the time this study was announced, our faculty expressed concerns about the seeming absence of a research design; about the capacity of any researchers to conduct a comprehensive study of 15 organizations within a few months; about the organization’s capacity to reach out to various stakeholders and constituencies; and about the implicit bias of consultants who were hired by those to whom they were to deliver the report.

While the NCHEMS report briefly discusses the steps its authors took, it does not provide a clear research design that communicates that the data-collection process was thoughtfully planned. Further, the methodology employed for processing and analyzing the data collected is not transparent, and the authors do not explain why they include some perspectives and exclude others.

At points, the report reads more like an amassing of certain regularly expressed grievances than it does a systematic study. Further, there are assertions in the report that are not supported within the document, and there are other places where conclusions are drawn without an indication that it was within NCHEMS’ realm of expertise to draw those conclusions. At other points, the report’s recommendations seem to present unworkable solutions that reflect an inadequate understanding of stakeholders’ day-to-day challenges and the legislative process.

With those caveats in place, NCHEMS’ perspective provides a useful starting point for dialogue. APSCUF’s position remains that the central core of the problems confronting the System and our universities is the Commonwealth’s decision not to properly fund public higher education. Pennsylvanians deserve an opportunity to pursue the American dream for themselves and their children, and affordable public higher education is key to that pursuit. It is unacceptable that a generation should be denied the opportunities provided to their predecessors. We cannot and should not close universities, indiscriminately end programs, or otherwise limit access and deny opportunities to working-class Pennsylvanians.