As they mete out painful cuts, Pa.'s state-owned universities confront higher education's identity crisis

Tim Goral's picture
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

These are strange times for those in the business of higher education.

After years of being looked to as the sole avenue to the American Dream and gateways to knowledge, colleges and universities find themselves answering fundamental questions: from employers about the value of the degrees they bestow; from students and parents on the affordability of the education they provide; and, in the case of public institutions, of how to provide first-class programs at a time of declining taxpayer support.

The current identity crisis may be no more pronounced than at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities, where officials are shuttering academic programs and laying off faculty to close debts and to meet increased operating costs. State funding was cut by 18 percent three years ago and has remained flat ever since. And 294 permanent jobs have been lost since 2010.

That toll is expected to rise at the end of the spring semester when 45 more faculty members are expected to lose their jobs. University officials say they look at the tough times as an opportunity to realign course offerings to meet the demands of a changing workforce.

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