These policy failures are not a failure of law but, sadly, a failure of Pennsylvania public officials to obey the law.
Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania (PRWEB) May 14, 2014
Angelo Armenti, Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU), defines “Government” higher education as “public higher education in which the state controls more than 50% of its governance seats, while providing less than 50% of its annual funding.” He has also labeled Pennsylvania as an extreme example of “government” higher education for clinging to 100% control of the governance seats while providing only 25% of the annual funding.
The 14 “public,” a.k.a., “state-owned” universities in Pennsylvania are part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which was created by Act 188 of 1982.¹ According to this enabling legislation, the purpose of PASSHE is “to provide high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.” Act 188 also defines, among other things, the duties and responsibilities of the PASSHE Board of Governors (BOG), with its twenty (20) members, and the Councils of Trustees (COTs), with eleven (11) members at each of the individual 14 PASSHE universities.
At the present time, 100% (all 174) of the individuals holding these PASSHE governance board seats are politically appointed by the “minority (25%) financial stakeholder,” i.e., the State of Pennsylvania, while 0% (not one) of the individuals holding PASSHE governance board seats are selected by the “majority (75%) financial stakeholders,” i.e., the PASSHE students, parents and donors, primarily alumni.
In his recent book, Privatization Without a Plan,² Armenti provides what he calls “compelling evidence” for several major policy failures on the part of the Pennsylvania public officials who comprise PASSHE’s 100% political leadership. Those public officials include elected officials, appointed officials and senior policy executives, in a hierarchy in which elected officials select appointed officials, and the appointed officials select and direct the senior policy executives, including one chancellor and the 14 presidents.
Two Key Policy Failures by “Government” Higher Education in Pennsylvania
Policy Failure Number 1
In a chapter of his book entitled “Privatization Without a Plan: An Abdication of Responsibility, Armenti provides Chart 9 depicting the trend in ‘Total E&G Revenue per FTE Student’ over the 30-year period from 1984 to 2013, where the revenue is expressed in constant 2013 dollars. According to Armenti, this statistic—which is the sum of two parts: State appropriation/FTE student, plus Tuition+Fees+Other revenue—is widely regarded as a ‘proxy measure for the quality of the total educational experience,’ and is normally used by various magazines in “rating” the quality of different colleges and universities.
According to Chart 9, which is based on public information from PASSHE in response to a Right to Know request, this proxy measure grew by 29% over the first 19 years of PASSHE’s existence (1984-2002), but fell by 14% over a more recent 11-year period (2003-2013), confirming that about half the quality gains achieved by the PASSHE Board of Governors between 1984 and 2002 had been lost by the year 2013.
According to Armenti, these data show that the “high quality education” end of PASSHE’s statutory purpose has not been delivered to PASSHE students by the Board of Governors since the year 2002, and further, that this policy failure is a direct result of a divided loyalty, or conflict of interest, on the part of the PASSHE Board of Governors in terms of decisions which favor what’s best, politically speaking for the governor, as opposed to what’s best, educationally speaking, for the students.
Policy Failure Number 2
In a chapter entitled “What Privatization Without a Plan is Doing to the Students,” Armenti provides Chart 20 which tracks financial aid trends, in grants and loans, to students at a typical PASSHE university as compared with students at all universities nationally, between fiscal years 2006 and 2011. According to Chart 20, based on public information provided by PASSHE in response to a Right to Know request, a typical financial aid package for students nationally contained 51% grants and 42% loans, while a typical financial aid package for students at a PASSHE university consisted of 27% grants and 65% loans.
These data, according to Armenti, show that Pennsylvania is not providing public higher education at anything like “the lowest possible cost to the students.” Other states are clearly doing a much better job of it and, once again, this policy failure results from a divided loyalty, or conflict of interest, on the part of the PASSHE Board of Governors in terms of what’s best, politically speaking, for the governor, as opposed to what’s best, financially speaking, for the students.
The Conflict of Interest Behind Both Policy Failures
The two ends of PASSHE’s Act 188 statutory purpose, represent two critical goals: 1) An aspirational goal regarding educational quality, i.e., “high quality education,” which can only be inferred by means of one or more proxy measures; and 2) A clear and measurable goal regarding student costs, i.e., “at the lowest possible cost to the students,” which can actually be measured directly, by comparison with student costs in other states. According to the book, PASSHE’s current 100% political leadership has failed to deliver either end of PASSHE’s statutory purpose since at least the year 2002.
According to Armenti, the reason for the policy failures on both ends of PASSHE’s statutory purpose stems from the same conflicted decision by the PASSHE Board of Governors, namely, their decision year after year to approve the “lowest possible tuition” (i.e., sticker price), when, in fact, Act 188 mandates a very different decision, namely, to approve the “lowest possible cost to the students” (i.e., bottom line).
For political reasons, according to the book, governors from both parties prefer low tuitions over low bottom lines and, unfortunately, their politically subservient Boards of Governors have acceded to those wishes.
In that sense, according to Armenti, the two key policy failures just cited are not a failure of law but, sadly, a failure of Pennsylvania public officials to obey the law.
The Role of PASCU
PASCU’s mission is “To ensure that the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania as specified by Act 188 of 1982: ‘High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,’ is indefinitely preserved and faithfully delivered.” To advance that mission, PASCU seeks to reform the governance of PASSHE so as to enable it achieve its statutory purpose as mandated by Act 188.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Angelo Armenti Jr. served as President of California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) from 1992 to 2012. Before that, he was a Dean at Villanova University, a professor of physics, and author of The Physics of Sports (American Institute of Physics, 1992). During his career at Cal U, Armenti is credited with establishing numerous funding sources for student scholarships and for campus revitalization projects, efforts made in part to address the problems that he describes in Privatization Without a Plan. In June of 2012, Armenti founded a non-profit corporation entitled The Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU) whose mission it is to preserve the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania. He also writes for his blog at http://angeloarmenti.blogspot.com/.