• Sam Darklau

    Sam Dunklau is the head of the Capitol Bureau for WITF. He previously reported on the Illinois government for NPR member station WUIS in Springfield, IL.

    Sam has been floating through the radio waves as a reporter, disc jockey and station manager since 2015. He grew up in the small town of Paw Paw, Illinois, in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of Augustana College.

July 21, 2021 | 4:09 pm

(Harrisburg) –– The group leader of 14 Pennsylvania state universities details how he plans to spend $ 75 million, primarily federal, on pandemic aid over the next year.

About two-thirds of this is federal funds intended to help the group of 14 universities recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The remainder are savings recently realized by the system by refinancing the pension debt it owes to the state employee pension system.

Chancellor of the state higher education system, Daniel Greenstein, shared a draft of the plan with a state Senate committee Tuesday when he answered Senators’ questions about the upcoming merger of Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities into a rooftop school and California, Clarion and Edinboro Universities in another.

The system’s board of governors voted unanimously last week to continue these mergers and plans to introduce the new “integrated” Western film and northeast Higher education systems next July.

“This was really the beginning of a journey, not the end of one, and it will take continued commitment … as we build two regional education centers,” Greenstein said in his opening comments to Senators.

Greenstein’s ideas about spending the one-time cash seemed to reflect that reality. He suggests spending $ 15 million of the money on doing the integrations, but also wants to spend other portions of it to make PASSHE schools more attractive in a post-pandemic world.

PASSHE / via Pa. State Senate Livestream Video

A screenshot from a presentation by PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein to the Pennsylvania Senate on July 20, 2021 showing a proposed spending plan for a cash inflow of $ 75 million, the majority of which is to help the university system get out of the pandemic to recover.

“The students returning from the pandemic will be different from those before her in terms of their expectations and the type of learning experience,” Greenstein said. “Universities and colleges in general will do well to watch out for these changing patterns of behavior.”

Greenstein also wants to use part of the money to help schools pay off their debts in building and renovating less-used dormitories. Enrollment in PASSHE schools across the board has declined 20 percent since its peak in 2011which means fewer students will need on-campus accommodation.

He pointed out to state senators that while schools are exploring new ways to use these buildings, the system may need to sell them to save money. It looks like PASSHE’s three soon-to-be-merged universities in the west will collectively lose millions of dollars over the next few years as consolidation efforts continue.

“There are many uses [for] Dormitories, ”said Greenstein. “But this alternative takes a while to establish itself. It’s not a slam dunk, let’s put it that way. “

PASSHE’s Board of Governors is expected to consider a more detailed spending plan for the extra money in October.