Effort to take WCU out of state system moves forward

West Chester University is so popular it is considering breaking away from the state education system. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
West Chester University is so popular it is considering breaking away from the state education system. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 13, 2014

WEST CHESTER West Chester University's Council of Trustees has become increasingly frustrated with the state's higher education system and is solidly behind proposed legislation that would allow the school to explore withdrawing from it, a board member said.

"That's the direction we are looking at very seriously," said Eli Silberman, a retired advertising executive from Unionville and one of nine trustees. "It's not guaranteed the university is going to do that, but considering what's been going on over the last few years, it's an option we'd like to have."

Silberman said the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees the 14 state schools, with 112,300 students, this year took $1.6 million away from financially healthy West Chester to help struggling schools.

"That got us serious about this possibility," Silberman said Tuesday.

West Chester said it will conduct a feasibility study on the impact on students, employees, and the region if it were to exit the system and become "state-related," like Temple and Lincoln Universities, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

On Tuesday, Silberman attended a news conference in Harrisburg where the legislation permitting withdrawal was unveiled by State Sens. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) and Robert Tomlinson (R., Bucks). The proposal would allow healthy universities with more than 7,000 students to exit. The schools also would have to buy their way out of the system over a period of years by acquiring assets under the state's domain.

Dinniman and Tomlinson, also a West Chester University trustee, said the system has been slow to respond to changing academic needs and bleeding enrollment.

"By forcing legislation that requires hearings and debate, we'll finally deal with this," Dinniman said. "That's our hope."

But several lawmakers; the state system's chancellor, Frank T. Brogan; and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties spoke against the proposal.

"Permitting schools to leave the state system doesn't make the school stronger or the system stronger," said Rep. Mike Hanna, the House Democratic whip and a member of the state system board.

"The underlying issue here is that our state schools have suffered unprecedented cuts under the current administration," said Hanna, who represents Clinton County and part of Centre County.

Dinniman said tuition at West Chester would likely increase only $500 to $1,000 if it became state-related. He contends that tuition at other system schools was going to rise significantly anyway, given waning state funding. West Chester's tuition, in any case, will not approach Penn State's, he said. In-state students pay about $16,240 annually in tuition, fees, and room and board at West Chester, compared to $26,362 at Penn State.

With 15,845 students, West Chester is the system's largest school. The other schools are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock.

Correction: Earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount taken from West Chester by the state system.


ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

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