Measures will create new competitive and cost-saving opportunities for universities
Harrisburg—As the final, important step in an 18-month-long process, Governor Tom Corbett has signed into law a series of bills that will “modernize” the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), providing the 14 member universities new competitive and cost-savings opportunities, and granting them the ability to offer advanced degree programs designed to meet the specific needs of employers in their regions and the Commonwealth.
Passage of the measures—known collectively as the Higher Education Modernization Act—capped the most productive legislative session in PASSHE’s nearly 30-year history. All of the bills passed unanimously in both the House and Senate before being signed by the governor.
Taken together, the measures represent “the most significant legislative changes since the State System was created in 1982,” said PASSHE Board of Governors Chairman Guido M. Pichini.
“The unanimous, bipartisan support in the Legislature and the decision by Governor Corbett to sign each of these bills is a strong indication of how important they are to PASSHE,” Mr. Pichini said. “We are extremely grateful to everyone who was involved in getting us to this point. In the end, it will be our students who will benefit the most.”
Each of the measures will take effect in about two months.
“The Higher Education Modernization Act will help IUP maximize the return on the investment of taxpayer dollars through the commercialization of faculty inventions, the delivery of academic programs to meet workforce needs, and the ability to raise private funds and to be even more efficient with existing resources,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said.
The legislation will enable PASSHE faculty, staff and students to be more entrepreneurial by providing them with greater opportunities to work directly with businesses to develop commercial applications for any inventions they might develop in the course of their research, something they are restricted from doing now because of their unique status as state employees.
“It creates a level playing field, not only with all other institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth, but also with other public universities throughout the country,” said PASSHE Chancellor Dr. John C. Cavanaugh.
The measure could enhance the universities’ ability to both recruit and retain faculty and staff while providing new opportunities for students to engage in research and to participate in internships. It also could provide new revenue streams for the universities, as more new inventions are taken to market.
All 14 PASSHE universities now will be able to offer applied, or professional, doctorates. Currently, only Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) can offer doctoral degrees independently. Under the legislation, IUP will remain the only PASSHE university with the right to award Ph.Ds., or research doctorates.
Examples of applied doctoral degree programs that could be offered include a doctorate in biostatistics, which is highly sought by the pharmaceutical industry, and a doctorate in nursing practice, which would produce much-needed nursing faculty to train new nurses, thus addressing a critical need, not just in the Commonwealth, but also across the United States. In some areas of healthcare, a doctoral degree has become the entry-level certification to enter the field as a sole practitioner.
“PASSHE universities will work closely with employers across Pennsylvania to identify their specific needs and then to develop the programs necessary to address those needs,” Dr. Cavanaugh said. “This is another way the State System can help promote economic development in the Commonwealth, while, at the same time, providing students even greater opportunities to ensure their success.”
The two remaining pieces of the legislative package were crafted to enable the universities to generate additional revenue through private fundraising and to reduce their purchasing costs. Under the former, university presidents, faculty and other employees will be able to be more involved in fund-raising. With the continuing decline in state funding support, private fund raising has become more important as a revenue source to the universities.
PASSHE universities currently engage in joint purchasing of goods and services among themselves and utilize state contracts, which have helped contribute to more than $220 million in overall savings across the System over the last decade. Under the newly signed legislation, the institutions will be able to join even larger purchasing consortia, which should result in even greater cost savings.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with nearly 120,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study. About 500,000 PASSHE alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.