PASSHE Chancellor Discusses Future of Higher Education at Clarion University
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
Clarion University students, employees, community members, elected officials, and media were invited to attend the event at the Suites on Main North Theater, where the chancellor provided an update regarding the State System Redesign as well as an open question and answer period.
“I believe, as I know you do, passionately in the power of public higher education,” Dr. Greenstein said. “For me it’s about social mobility and equity, as the first thing.”
Dr. Greenstein noted that major shifts in the job market over the last few decades had put a lot of pressure on higher education, and particularly public higher education, as a reliable pathway into and beyond the middle class, which is an issue of both social mobility and equity.
“You’re five times more likely in this country to have a degree by age 24 if you’re rich than if you’re poor. Five times, which is kind of unacceptable.”
“While higher education is a pathway into and beyond the middle class, it is inequitably distributed. It’s not available to the poor. So the work of public higher education, the work that we do, the work that you do, is so important in creating that pathway and making it available to everybody.”
He went on to note that while social mobility and equity are a primary concern, public higher education is also important for economic development.
“In this state, I think the estimate is that by 2025, 54 percent of the adult population will require some sort of post-secondary education in able to compete effectively in the workplace. 54 percent of all jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education and virtually all of the new jobs that have been created since the Great Recession and that will be created, the new jobs that are things that just didn’t exist before, will require some sort of post-secondary education.”
According to Greenstein, this actually ties directly into the equity issue, as well.
“You can’t meet either objective if we don’t do better, mostly in public higher education, with the people who have been under-served historically by our universities: the low income students, students of color, and the adult students who are working and coming back after a period of either never having gone or having stopped out at some point.”
Greenstein noted that public higher education is also very important to our region in terms of social justice issues.
“Increasingly, universities and colleges are some of the last places that you can go to engage with people who are just wholly different than yourself, and by doing that, by engaging with people wholly different than yourself, you learn tolerance, which is something that is sorely lacking in our society.”
He went on to note that while he spends a great deal of time on the array of numbers and statistics that any administrator is familiar with, he wants to focus more on the “conversation” that he feels it is necessary for the state systems to have to make necessary improvements.
“It’s really about generating a conversation that we have to have, that we have to be open about, in order that we can continue to pursue our vision.”
As a part of creating that conversation, he noted that they’ve spend a great deal of time attempting to create a more inclusive culture.
“We’re seeing a lot of momentum in that direction,” he noted.
“The System Redesign is being moved forward by teams which are inclusive of faculty and staff and students invited together to solve specific problems. We spent a lot of time with the statewide APSCUF trying to improve relations which had really reached a very challenging stage, and I think we’ve really made some progress there, as well.”
“We’re working with our leadership team, the Presidents and Vice Presidents, to try to build a cohesive group of system leaders, actually, a team of leaders, very different than a group of people that are convened, usually by somebody in Harrisburg and told a bunch of stuff, in a one-way flow, to really begin to cultivate a sense of our leadership in the system as well as in the specific universities.”
“The board has empaneled a commission that will look at and review various options for faculty shared governance at the system level because you need more than just administrative voices in that system leadership role, so the idea is to fill that and complement that, and that will take place over the next year or so.”
He went on to note that the change in the culture at Clarion University, to a more “positive” and “optimistic” culture, has been noted and that he recognizes the amount of work and effort that have gone into making that change, and how important culture is to the overall State System.
“I’m convinced that we have the cleverest, most technically sophisticated strategies, and techniques, and implementation plans, but without addressing our culture and learning how to work together, it won’t matter. We won’t achieve the four percent increase that you were able to achieve, it won’t achieve the kind of vision that you have, it won’t help realize the vision that you have in ‘True North’ unless we work on our culture.”
In light of the need to address the cultural climate at a system-wide level, they have developed a culture survey to look at a range of issues, from engagement and management effectiveness to innovation and inclusion.
“The point of gathering all this data is not to do a U.S. News and World Report ranking on culture, it’s to foster conversations. It’s to spend time reflecting on how and why are we where the data suggests we are, not to jump into immediately into solutioning and solving problems, although I hope eventually that happens, but to learn about who we are and what we want to become.”
Open Forum Question and Answer Segment
In response to a question regarding synchronistic learning in the new contract, Dr. Greenstein noted that while he can’t directly comment on anything in the contract negotiations, he could share a bit about the general process for the contract negotiations.
“The process, for those of you who don’t know, is called interest based bargaining. What typically happens in contract negotiations is that both sides come in and put a position on the table, ‘here’s what we want,’ and you go back and forth based on positions. In interest-based bargaining there are two teams who get together and they identify what their interests are, what they want to talk about, and they list issues, and then you work your way through the issues. You jointly develop a list of things you want to talk about.”
He went on to note that the teams work together and then vote on the list of interests to be discussed until there is an agreed joint list of interests that the teams have together. Then they move on to options that can be implemented to address the interests and discuss and vote on those.
“It’s basically shared problem solving that starts where very few negotiations, contract or not, start, which is what do we care about and why, so it builds that common foundation.”
Another question addressed the issue of sharing information within the university community.
“We are always looking to lift up voices,” Greenstein noted.
He went on to note that one of the ongoing issues within the State System is the hierarchical nature of the system which can sometimes impede implementation of ideas with chain of command requests and need for approval.
“We have to look at what is keeping us from doing these things right now. Why do the historians need something from me to move forward with a really good idea? What is stopping any one of us from reaching out to sort of share our stories?”
“We have to figure out, collectively, management has an important role, but how do we create a space where you can do your best work, not just by yourselves in your departments or your units, but coming together in a way. And we have to figure that out because we weren’t built to do this. We were built very hierarchically.”
A later question delved further into the issue, noting that the different individuals within the State System schools have different strengths that may benefit the entire system if they are shared, and asked if there is a way, since some courses are taught in Harrisburg, to open that up for faculty or others to volunteer to teach a course that others can tap into across the system, mainly for faculty collaboration.
“If you look at the research literature, and I know you have, the use of high impact practices is super important. Not only does it improve student learning outcomes, at least as well as they can be measured in terms of grades and success in subsequent courses, but it has disproportionate effects for students that are least well served in higher education, so low-income students and students of color benefit more from high impact practices than more affluent white students in trial after trial.”
“The point is how do you actually stimulate conversation around high impact practices and their use? How do you engage folks, and so I think that we have to do something here.”
According to Greenstein, there are many different ways to go about doing so are numerous, but the potential impacts are huge.
“We spend so much time thinking about the stuff we have to do to keep the lights on, to build ourselves and our strengths, to invest in our people, and the kind of things you’re talking about, you’re not talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, that would be nice, but you can have a lot of impact, you can reach a lot of people, you can generate a great conversation around teaching, reaching students, learning, by going out of our way just a little bit.”
The issue of sustainability, in terms of environmental impact, also came up during the question an answer segment with a question about how it may play into the State System Redesign.
According to Greenstein, while there is an understanding at the state level that sustainability is not only an important thing to focus on as an existential issue, but also an economic issue, there is currently no specific task force on sustainability.
“So many of the things we need to do, we have to put in place just basic building blocks.”
“My hope is that we can do that necessary foundational work without losing sight of the really important longer-range thinking, because that is super important.”
A later questioner noted that some alumni are hesitant to donate due to rumors of a failing system or failing university and asked about the health of higher education and the direction of the PASSHE program.
“This is probably the most exciting place to be in higher ed,” Greenstein said.
“We are reimagining the future of public higher education, and that’s, not everybody gets to do that. That’s what I would call a really good investable hypothesis. Any investment made in Clarion is an investment made in the future of higher education. I mean, not just abstractly, but in terms of figuring out what it means to be a 21st century university.”
“You probably take it for granted, but that four percent freshmen enrollment bump, the ‘True North Strategy,’ it’s really impressive work. You’re actually now demonstrating the fact that you froze tuition and housing costs. This signals real seriousness of purpose.”
One of the major take-aways from the entire open forum was a distinct sense of hope for the future.
“I’m pretty optimistic. I think you guys, what you’re doing here…I’ve only been here a year, but I’ve kind of begun to witness the transition that you’re pulling off under Dr. Dale’s leadership and her team, and it’s inspiring. It’s not easy, but it can bear fruit in a short time, so don’t ever doubt yourselves.”
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