Jan. 21, 2020

HARRISBURG – Today, House Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney (R-Erie) and Reps. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Franklin/Fulton) and Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks) joined together with Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Daniel Greenstein and chair of PASSHE’s Board of Governors Cynthia Shapira to unveil a package of bills designed to update, improve and reform PASSHE.

PASSHE is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Since its formation in 1982, it has provided accessible, affordable and relevant undergraduate, graduate and career-development programs to the public. However, despite significant changes to the landscape of higher education, PASSHE’s enabling legislation, Act 188 of 1982, has not been significantly updated since its initial enactment.

Currently, PASSHE is facing considerable challenges that threaten the sustainability of its operations. In order to address these challenges, PASSHE embarked on a system redesign in 2016, which was separated into three phases.

Phase I included establishing three strategic priorities: ensuring student success; leveraging university strengths; and transforming the governance/leadership structure. The system redesign is currently in Phase II, which began in the fall of 2018 with the arrival of a new chancellor. It also involves developing detailed implementation plans to achieve the strategic priorities. However, legislative action is needed to accomplish many of these goals.

Both statutory and regulatory constraints are imposing additional costs and creating inefficiencies that are constraining PASSHE’s ability to respond to rapidly changing market conditions.

“By updating and modernizing Act 188, we will be giving PASSHE the tools it needs to ensure that our universities remain competitive in today’s everchanging higher education landscape,” said Sonney. “This bill package will update the law to permit PASSHE to better manage and optimize the system, which will better benefit our students.”

House Bill 2171, authored by Sonney, would reform the governance and accountability of PASSHE’s Board of Governors and the Councils of Trustees. These reforms include authorizing the board to create, expand, consolidate, transfer, dissolve or close an institution or college, which would better empower the board to align the system with Commonwealth workforce needs and enrollment; vesting the board with the power to enforce board policies and require institutions to share services and participate in collaborations, where appropriate; clarifying that the board may delegate duties to the chancellor; clarifying the powers and duties of the Councils of Trustees and presidents; and more.

House Bill 2172, authored by Topper, would make needed financial and legal reforms to PASSHE. These reforms include affirming the system’s sovereign immunity status and status as a government instrumentality; distinguishing between the applicable statutory requirements for state-appropriated and non state-appropriated funds; prohibiting the system from indemnifying third parties; and more.

“The universities in the state’s system of higher education provide a needed service to our students. However, the system faces systemic problems that must be fixed to ensure its viability,” Topper said. “I believe we have a solution that will not only fix these problems but will also put the system on sound footing so that it can continue to provide the kind of education our students deserve at a cost taxpayers can justify.”

And finally, House Bill 2173, authored by Schroeder, would make needed reforms to streamline reporting and clarify and update statutory language. These reforms include clarifying language regarding cooperative use or purchasing agreements; removing outdated terminology; easing redundant reporting requirements; and exempting student records and emails from the Right to Know Law.

“There are nearly 100,000 students seeking degrees within this system, and thousands more enrolled in certificate and career-development programs,” Schroeder said. “That’s why it’s so important that we upgrade the system so it continues as a vital component of the Pennsylvania economy.”

The bill package is now in the House Education Committee.

Representative Curt Sonney
4th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Brooke Haskell