For many families, it’s college time. High school seniors are getting acceptance letters. Juniors are making applications. Parents are filling out financial aid paperwork and taking the family on campus visits.

But this year, students are being accepted to schools that might not be the name on their degree in a few years.

California, Clarion and Edinboro state universities are being merged into one school with three campuses on the western side of Pennsylvania. Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield are doing the same in the northeastern corner.

The six schools make up about 43% of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education — a confederation of 14 smaller state schools that doesn’t include the heavy hitting state-related institutions of Pitt, Penn State and Temple.

PASSHE’s colleges have been struggling with declining enrollment and state subsidies. Pennsylvania ranks 48th in the U.S. for support of its state schools.

The consolidation is meant to address that, trying to share resources and reduce redundancies. It’s a good plan, and it’s one that is up for public comment after the board of governors voted to open a 60-day window.

It is not popular with everyone. That is to be expected.

Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, represents 5,000 PASSHE professors and coaches. She has called the 439 pages of consolidation plans light on detail and without enough attention to the impact the changes will have.

Those do seem like valid points. If the board of governors is interested in public comment, it should be prepared for the questions that will be asked and have answers. The universities in all six communities are important, even central, parts of the economy. The leaders need to balance their institutions’ needs with how the changes will be felt in those towns.

But this has also been a slow march toward the inevitable. Cal U was founded in 1852 — three years before Penn State became the state’s land grant university. Pennsylvania acquired it in 1914. It became part of the PASSHE system in 1983.

It is past time for the schools to consolidate. Doing so in chunks of a few schools here and a few there seems like more delay of what will likely and eventually be one state school with many branches — a system already embodied in Penn State and its Commonwealth Campuses.

The purpose of state schools is to provide education to its residents — locally, conveniently and affordably. The PASSHE system does its best to provide that education. If consolidation is what will allow that to continue, then it should be done as openly, honestly and with as much smart preparation as possible.

— The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/TNS

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