CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners on Tuesday lobbied to keep Lock Haven University’s Clearfield branch campus open.
In July, the Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education authorized Chancellor Daniel Greenstein to review the financial impacts of integrating operations at selected system universities.
PASSHE will review proposals to integrate California University with Clarion University, Edinboro University with Slippery Rock University and Lock Haven University with Mansfield University.
If approved, each combination of universities would be unified with one leadership team, faculty and staff, array of academic programs, enrollment management strategy, budget, reporting lines, etc., while both campuses keep their “institutional identity.”
“Along with other system campuses, Lock Haven is engaged in a comprehensive financial review of its operations through the PASSHE Financial Sustainability and System Redesign process,” said Elizabeth Arnold, executive director of LHU’s Strategic Communications Advancement Division. “In addition, the university is engaged in discussion surrounding potential integration with Mansfield University.”
Arnold said a financial review is the first step in the university integration process, as outlined in Act 50 of 2020 – legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in July.
Act 50 requires a “detailed, transparent and broadly consultative review, planning and implementation process,” one that will be undertaken over the next two years.
“As a result, the financial sustainability of all campus operations, including the Clearfield branch campus, is currently being examined,” Arnold said. “The university and state system are having discussions about how to best achieve long-term financial sustainability.
“These discussions have only recently been undertaken and must examine all aspects of how the university operates, its expenses and revenues, as we identify what changes are possible in order to achieve financial sustainability objectives set out by the State System.”
Arnold said the university is “far from any final decisions or actions” as part of these processes, adding that LHU’s Council of Trustees has final authority to make decisions around the operation of LHU’s Clearfield campus.
The campus’ undergraduate enrollment is 375 students, and 62 percent are from Clearfield County, according to the university’s Web site. In addition, it has 30 full-time employees, including nine administrative staff, and 21 faculty.
Its possible closure is concerning to all three Clearfield County Commissioners, and was a topic of discussion at the end of Tuesday’s board meeting.
“We’re disappointed,” said Commissioner John A. Sobel. “Since the early 90’s, the LHU campus has provided an affordable outlet for residents to receive a post-secondary education.
“It’s certainly employed a number of people in positions such as faculty, staff, support personnel, etc., and it’s also been a cultural outlet.
“But most importantly, … it’s offered nursing and master’s level physician assistant programs, providing medically-trained employees for the growing healthcare needs of our region.”
Sobel said he spoke with the new provost as well as the dean of the nursing and physician assistant programs. “Both have assured me it’s just a study, it’s just preliminary and that they value the Clearfield campus.”
“… However, Lock Haven as well as some other state universities are suffering some pretty significant financial pressures right now from declining enrollment and with costs continually going up.”
Commissioner Dave Glass concurred, noting that the timing couldn’t be any worse because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said everything about higher education is changing, and its outlook still remains unknown.
He said commuter campuses may become a more valuable piece of the overall educational puzzle because parents and students may not want to attend larger colleges and universities with 40,000-plus students.
“I think it might be a bit premature on the state’s part to jump to any conclusions given the current circumstances,” Glass said, “so I hope they’ll reconsider.”
Sobel asked LHU’s Council of Trustees and PASSHE’s Board of Governors to allow the Clearfield campus to remain open because he believes it will only continue to grow in importance in the 21st century.
Sobel, along with Commissioner Chairman Tony Scotto, urged residents to support the local campus by contacting their local state officials.