After 4 Years, Head Of PA Higher Education Retiring

Jul 20, 2017

The head of the system overseeing Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities intends to step down Sept.1. 

Chancellor Frank Brogan will retire after four years at the helm of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

His announcement comes a week after consultants advised an overhaul of the system's governance after a strategic review of the schools, which include West Chester, Millersville and Bloomsburg.

Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the state system, praised Brogan for obtaining more funding for it.

"Prior to Chancellor Brogan's arrival, the system had gone seven years in a row without a funding increase, with having our funding either reduced or flat funded," he said. "The last three years, the legislature and the governor have increased funding for the state system. This year, the state system was the only sector of higher education to receive an increase."

When Brogan started in 2013, the state system's funding levels were the same as 1997, and the coming academic year's funding is now equivalent to its 2001 level.

Marshall says Brogan also has drawn attention to the system's serious challenges by approving the comprehensive review.

"The system is facing some very, very serious challenges, perhaps unprecedented challenges," said Marshall. "And getting this study done and these recommendations — whether they will be carried out — but at least they're now out on the table."

The independent review was initiated last year and the final set of recommendations will be released at the end of this week.

"The strategic system review is perhaps the most important effort this System has ever undertaken," said Chancellor Brogan in a statement. "I'm extremely proud of the work we've done to better serve students today and far into the future. This is the System's opportunity to make bold choices that will ensure our universities are here to meet the needs of our current and future students and the Commonwealth for decades to come, and beyond."

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, Democratic minority chair of the state senate's education committee, says Brogan's retirement is an opportunity to consider the entire gamut of higher education.

"We cannot understand and improve the state system without understanding the whole landscape of higher education in Pennsylvania with its rather Byzantine structure, which state-owned, state-related, community colleges, privates."

The Chester County lawmaker says he's been urging for the past decade a coordinating council a way to avoid duplicating programs in the same geographic area and to allocate money more wisely and effectively.

The comprehensive review recommended a statewide higher education czar to address those issues and more.

Dinniman says Pennsylvania has entered an "era of concerted and enduring change." He mentioned changes in terms of student needs, types of students, the economy, and says if Pennsylvania doesn't change as well, it will fall further behind.

"If we're going to be an economic leader in this nation and the world, Pennsylvania needs to understand this globalized technologic culture and society, and make and use higher education effectively."

The state senator says challenging how institutions are organized isn't something that is usually done, but needs to be in order for the Commonwealth keep up with the constant change that's occurring.

"We just don't have the money anymore to keep in place the [higher education] structure that is not answering the economic needs of the Commonwealth."

The lawmaker says other efforts should include: acknowledging a shifting state economy, spending money more strategically and reaching out to adult learners.

Ken Mash, president of the system's faculty union, says Brogan's retirement is a chance for a fresh start.

"There's no secret that we were on strike last year," he said. "There was some conflict within the system. I think it's not necessarily a reflection on the fact of whether we could or could not work with [Brogan]. But I think that changes like this often bring about opportunity. So we're going to look at it as an opportunity to try to improve things and make them the best we can for our students."

One recommendation from the outside review was increased collaboration, something Mash hopes to see.

"I think that there is a lot of talent among the faculty and our coaches in the system," he said. "I think that there can be a greater reliance on listening to them for ways that we can make the system better and operate more effectively."

He says he's focused on the future.

"Universities are interesting places, and you really do rely on the faculty to carry out policies that you'd like to see put into place," Mash said. "The best way to do that is through collaboration and listening. I think that there is room for that to happen all throughout the system. I'm looking forward to that happening more often. And for the faculty to have much greater input, even input into the selection of the next Chancellor."

An interim Chancellor will in place by Sept. 2, and the Board of Governors will conduct a national search for Brogan's successor.

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, NewsWorks