Pennsylvania colleges are facing tough financial choices in the face of declining enrollments, catalyzed by COVID-19.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one of the 14 members of the State System of Higher Education, announced the elimination of five low-enrollment degree programs in the arts and the consolidation from six colleges to five. Students currently enrolled in the programs will be able to complete them.

The news comes as the university reports a steep 33% drop in enrollment from about 15,000 students down to 10,000.

IUP’s step, while difficult, is necessary. Future in-state students seeking to pursue the eliminated degree programs will still have the option to do so at other state institutions. By differentiating itself from other state schools and focusing its finances on the departments that attract larger numbers of students, IUP is strengthening its competitive edge in attracting the students whom it can serve best.

In a video apology, IUP President Michael Driscoll said the university’s financial shortfall is about $16 million.

”If we don’t act now, IUP will continue to decline and will have no future,” he said.

Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the bottom three states in terms of taxpayer support for higher education. The state college system as a whole is grappling with ways to keep tuition affordable rather than passing on costs to students. Some of the 14 schools are merging, and more than 300 faculty positions are expected to be eliminated during the downsize, more than 120 of which will likely be at IUP. One hopes the administrative end of the school is exploring cuts as well.

This is understandably devastating to those losing their jobs and to the students losing their mentors and teachers, who have pointed out that other program mergers and moratoriums will amount to de facto elimination.

In the fall, the state government funneled roughly $28 million to these institutions to support health and safety plans, but with a diminished high school graduation rate in the state the financial hits facing these colleges are not likely to let up anytime soon.

For many high school graduates, college is the next step on a path toward a career and a brighter future, and the price of tuition can make or break many students’ ability to attend. IUP’s decision to focus on programs that attract higher enrollment is the right one.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

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