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November 21, 2012

Commission issues higher ed recommendations


Gov. Tom Corbett

An advisory panel established by Gov. Tom Corbett to examine higher education in Pennsylvania has published its recommendations.

The Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education was established in February as part of Corbett’s budget message (see Feb. 9 University Times) and charged with reporting on how best to finance higher education and ensure that the available options meet the needs of students and employers.

The 31-member panel, made up of business and education leaders including Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, held 16 public meetings across the state as it gathered information for its Nov. 14 report.

The report (posted at is made up of 19 recommendations focused on four broad goals:

• Affirm opportunities for lifelong learning;

• Ensure greater public access, affordability and usability of postsecondary education;

• Recognize and support the diversity and richness of the postsecondary education system; and

• Enhance Pennsylvania’s economic vitality and the ability for the commonwealth to compete globally.

It advocates more flexibility in options for learners (especially for non-traditional students and those from underrepresented groups); improved efficiency in delivering education; greater transparency and accountability, and performance-based funding for postsecondary education providers.

In introducing the report, the commissioners wrote: “During the course of our discussions, we pondered questions such as: What types of collaborations will be needed within the next 5-10 years to meet Pennsylvania’s labor demands, to achieve sector efficiencies and to increase accessibility and affordability for all users? What role should government and state policymakers play in helping achieve these goals? What best practices exist regionally, nationally and globally that could be held as standards for replication? What strategies would be needed to overcome potential barriers that could stand in the way of making these changes?”

In a prepared statement, commission chair Rob Wonderling said, “The commission’s recommendations provide a robust roadmap for the next decade that puts the user in the driver seat and helps make education more affordable and accessible for all.”

Corbett stated: “These suggestions focus on what is important to our students now — accessibility and affordability. At the same time, it plans for the future by recommending programs that will prepare our students for careers here in Pennsylvania.”

Lifelong learning

The commission recommended development of an online “passport for learning” portal to link learners with services and resources and help individuals manage their education and training.

It called for enhanced college and career counseling and financial literacy education for K-12 students; more dual enrollment programs, (particularly in technical, STEM, health care, manufacturing and other high priority fields), and opportunities for students to earn credits through competency-based exams.

In addition, the committee encouraged greater partnerships between secondary and post-secondary schools in providing access to remediation programs.

Accessibility and affordability

The commission recognized the need for providers to adapt to the decline in the traditional college population and the projected increase in nontraditional students who need flexibility to accommodate family and work obligations.

It also acknowledged the challenge of limited public and private funding and the need for postsecondary schools to manage and contain costs while maintaining educational quality.

The panel recommended that the state develop cost management initiatives including funding incentives and institutional collaboration with a focus on minimizing duplication of services and simplifying student transfers.

The report advocated for better support for veterans’ continuing education and development of strategies to improve postsecondary education in underrepresented groups including low-income, black, Latino and adults over 45.

Supporting educational diversity

The commission’s report touted the diversity in Pennsylvania’s postsecondary education system but noted that institutions “have been challenged in recent years to continue to operate at their best” due to the effects of economic recession.

It recommended more transparency and accountability coupled with performance-based funding, in addition to a base level of state appropriations to postsecondary institutions.

It also called for a state bond issue to support capital projects and the establishment of a working group to assess the current postsecondary system and make recommendations for reform “to include, but not [be] limited to consolidation and elimination of programs and/or institutions and their locations” to improve efficiency.

It also recommended another working group be established to review state and federal regulations with an eye toward reducing costly regulatory burdens.

In calling for performance-based funding increases, the report stated, “The commission believes that in exchange for higher and more predictable funding levels, a meaningful percentage of funds should be tied to the success of each postsecondary institution receiving funds in either sustaining or moving closer to target performance levels. Accordingly, balanced performance scorecards should be developed as a tool to measure postsecondary institutions’ efforts in ensuring access and affordability and to show citizens how their tax dollars are being used.”

The commission recommended that scorecards include such considerations as constraining tuition increases and decreasing time to completion; improving access to underserved groups and closing achievement gaps; attracting research dollars, and responding to workforce needs.

Enhancing economic vitality

The commission acknowledged the need for state government, business and education sectors to collaborate in partnerships to strengthen the workforce, attract industry and support advanced research.

The report recommended tax incentives and other state programs to encourage investment in research and commercialization of innovations resulting from that research.

It called for the state to establish a consortium of the state’s largest research institutions to develop an “innovation agenda” plan for funding research that will contribute to the state’s economic growth and maintain its competitive position in the global market.

The commission encouraged the development of innovation centers to create jobs and boost the economy and proposed incentives for those who support STEM education. It also recommended stronger ties between business and education to enhance workforce development and encouraged better access to labor market and education data for job seekers, employers and institutions.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 7

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