Friday, May 25, 2012

Guest Blog: The higher ed discussion

Where are issues discussed that may determine the future of education in our Commonwealth? Recently (May 17) it was the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Building in Harrisburg and the group was the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education.

I was privileged to attend the meeting with Bloomsburg University’s student Trustee Marcus Fuller (pictured right), who spoke from the audience on the importance of soft skills, community involvement and international education to tomorrow’s workforce.

As the meeting began, Chair Rob Wonderling listed the commission’s purposes:
  • Work together on behalf of the users of post-secondary education;
  • Ensure affordability, accessibility and employability;
  • Determine how to leverage advantages of higher education in Pennsylvania;
  • Identify best practices and remove government barriers;
  • And, finally, to listen to comments this spring, review information during the summer and deliver a proposed framework to Gov. Corbett in the fall. 
Guest speakers at the roundtable discussion represented colleges and universities, including our sister institution, Shippensburg University; organizations, such as the Association for College Admission Counseling; and business, including the host, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

They spoke of employment opportunities that go unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants … and programs that educate students for nonexistent jobs. Of the benefit of a system of 14 public universities – the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education – that enables students to graduate with manageable debt … and the possibility of changing funding to follow a student to any institution, public or private. Of meeting the educational needs of non-traditional students, including single mothers and citizens with criminal records … and competition from free online courses. Of the rich variety of institutions and educational opportunities that draws students from around the U.S. and the globe … and the needs of our state’s increasingly diverse citizenry.

Deep topics, all. And discussed in front of a small audience in a third-floor conference room overlooking the Capitol Complex.

Four more meetings are scheduled around the state, and comments can be submitted via If you care about post-secondary education in Pennsylvania, make sure your voice is heard.

Bonnie Martin is manager of communications and media relations at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A ”Back to the Future” budget plan

It isn’t such a bad idea, especially when it comes to understanding the plight of higher education funding.

The concept of going “Back to the Future” went nationwide in 1985 with the Michael J. Fox film that’s since become a cult favorite. In the science-fiction adventure, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Mack Brown built a time machine that enabled Marty McFly to travel back in time 30 years to 1955 and then back to 1985 after some misadventures. Nearing the end of the 1980s — specifically, the 1988-89 academic year — the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) received about $322.7 million in state funding, 57% of the 14 schools’ operating budgets. Today, nearly three decades later, PASSHE is facing a proposed state allocation at about the same level —$330.2 million — just $7.5 million more than during the “Back to the Future” era. It would be a 20 percent cut in state funding, according to Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2012-13 budget proposal.

Bloomsburg University has come a long way since 1985, when it was still growing from a state college with 6,400 students into today’s comprehensive university with 10,000 students studying in four colleges offering 56 programs leading to bachelor’s degrees, 44 minors and 21 graduate programs, including a doctorate in audiology. The system has grown, too, adding 23,000 students in that time. The dynamics of our education climate are simply not the same as they were in 1988-89. We recognize the financial challenges facing the state and know that higher education is key to its financial recovery. BU, along with other PASSHE institutions, is a major economic incubator graduating thousands of highly educated professionals and leaders into the work force each year. More than 80 percent of them stay in Pennsylvania to pursue their careers.

Advocating on behalf of higher education should be a yearlong initiative, but there’s no greater time than now to make our voices heard. Together we’re building not just a great future but a great state filled with young leaders who have expanded their knowledge and skills, developed diverse thoughts and ideals, and increased their understanding of our multicultural society and global community.

We must continue to create the dynamic future Doc Brown envisioned visiting when he created the “flux capacitor.”