By Sara Weissman
Leaders of Butler County Community College and Pennsylvania State University at Shenango are considering moving one of the community college’s campuses to the university as a cost-saving measure after steep enrollment declines at both institutions.
Michael B. Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonpartisan think tank, agreed the plan BC3 and Penn State Shenango are considering could be a “case study” for higher ed leaders across Pennsylvania, and the broader Northeast and Midwest, as populations change in these regions.
“College presidents and the associated systems around them are waking up at least to the reality that things are not going to go back to the way they were,” Horn said. He noted that colleges and universities are not only competing with each other for scant students in places like Pennsylvania but also with nonacademic providers, such as boot camps, that increasingly offer workforce training.
These various pressure points are forcing college leaders to think outside traditional boxes.
“I think it’s the sort of creativity that colleges and universities need to have right now, to be able to rethink the use of resources, how they collaborate, sharing and so forth,” he said. “I guess the question is, will it be enough, given just how far enrollment has fallen at these two campuses?”
He said all higher ed institutions teetering on the edge of demographic cliffs will have to consider this question.
“Do we need to see a lot more urgency, and should we have been seeing it sooner?” he said. “Or, given that the big decline starts in a couple more years, writ large, if we see a bunch of presidents and campuses really acting this year, maybe that’ll be enough time.”