Senators Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) and Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) Tuesday proposed bipartisan legislation that would enable universities that meet certain criteria to transfer out of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The senators said Senate Bill 1275 would give universities in the system greater independence and flexibility in meeting financial challenges and academic and enrollment needs.
The system has experienced a decline in enrollment in recent years, and many universities are struggling financially.
“The current funding structure for PASSHE is unsustainable – and now is the time to address the issue for the sake of students, communities and our universities,” Sen. Tomlinson said. “Allowing universities to transition to a state-related institution will provide greater flexibility to respond to local community, business and workforce needs – while providing more funds for remaining PASSHE schools.
“I am concerned by what appears to be a potential house of cards in terms of both finances and demographics,” said Sen. Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s not just about making up the money; it’s about attracting more students. And I am concerned that the state system may be engaging in a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The Senators said that transferring eligible schools out of PASSHE will bring millions of dollars back to the state system through the sale of buildings and lands, ultimately providing an infusion of much-needed funds.
To qualify for a transfer under the legislation and become a state-related university, the institution must:
-- Have a student enrollment of more than 7,000;
-- Have an unqualified audit opinion for three years;
-- Have the financial ability to compensate the state for the depreciated value of its property; and
-- Continue to contribute to the employer share for pension obligations.
The university’s chancellor would be required to put together a timeline in agreement with the institution's council of trustees on the transfer process. Collective bargaining agreements in place at the time of the transfer will remain in force for the term of the contract. New collective bargaining contracts would be negotiated by the university.“This creates opportunity for stronger relationships with local communities by increasing jobs, supporting economic development and becoming more agile in responding to the needs of their region,” Sen. Tomlinson said. “Most importantly, universities will remain committed to their mission of providing a quality and affordable education."