CLEARFIELD – “Let me make this clear, the [Lock Haven University] – Clearfield Campus is not closing.”
These were the words Dr. Ron Darbeau, LHU provost and vice president, stated at a community meet-and-greet event Wednesday at the Clearfield Campus regarding the integration of Lock Haven, Mansfield and Bloomsburg universities, all part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which includes 14 total schools.
In April, PASSHE announced two plans to restructure six universities under integrations where there would be two combinations of three.
The other three affected universities, in the western part of the state, include Clarion, Edinboro and California.
This is part of a larger process outlined in Act 50 of 2020 of the General Assembly, which is an amendment of the public-school code of 1949.
There were fears when the public learned that changes were in the works that the Clearfield Campus of Lock Haven University would be shut down, but Darbeau emphasized the importance of the campus to the system and repeatedly stated that the campus was not in danger.
In fact, at one point, he noted that while the main campus at Lock Haven has been losing students, the Clearfield Campus has been growing.
Darbeau explained some of the reasons for the restructuring, including stagnant funding and a change in demographics, resulting in locking out those they were created to serve because of costs.
He said decisions made in the past resulted in the hemorrhaging of money in the universities at the cost of providing a quality and relevant education, especially for those in communities where higher education is more difficult to obtain.
The schools need to return to a sense of public good. “I think we’ve moved away from that,” he said.
Darbeau explained that he is an example of what a difference an education can make in someone’s life. He is originally from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and said he grew up “dirt poor.”
He said he cannot payback what education gave to him, but he can pay it forward, and being part of PASSHE has been a way to give back.
Darbeau said that they are working on building a program to prepare students for tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow by working with the communities to determine not just what roles need filled now, but what the community needs will be in the future, and they are asking businesses to partner with them and help determine those future needs.
He said the eyes of every educational system across the nation is on Pennsylvania, where a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way universities meet community needs is unfolding.
The need is to move to greater sustainability and the biggest challenge has been finding the balance between revenues and expenses and constraining costs while providing programs students are interested in and investing in technologies to be prepared for every kind of learning environment, something they were not prepared for in March of 2020.
Working with the community will also allow everyone to think to the future and provide opportunities for graduates to stay and work in their communities.
Darbeau gave an example by something famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky said about why he was so good at the game, that he does not skate to where the puck is, but where it is going to be. Education, Darbeau said, will have to determine where the needs will be, not only where they are.
The integration will launch in 2022, he said, and everyone should expect that it won’t be perfect, that it cannot be perfect because they are not planning for 2022 but 2050, 2075 and beyond and building for the children of current students and their children’s children.
“We need to do our homework and make sure what we build is sustainable. We have to ensure the campus in Clearfield survives and thrives.”