Pennsylvania’s system of higher education recently united six of its public universities into two multi-campus institutes as part of ongoing efforts to maintain the system as an engine of economic development and social mobility in the state. State officials rewarded those efforts with PASSHE’s approval the largest budget increase in history.
But during this significant reorganization, there were also quieter but noteworthy changes. PASSHE has sold its Dixon University Center, a building in downtown Harrisburg and the grounds that formerly housed the chancellor’s office. The sale reduced operating costs and resulted in annual savings of $2 million, according to Kevin Hensil, PASSHE spokesman.
The sale also gave the university system the ability to allow 27 office staff to work remotely on a permanent basis at a time when colleges and universities are shedding staff and looking for ways to retain employees who feel overwhelmed by the pandemic and burned out by heavy workloads. . With greater flexibility in telecommuting policies, system leaders are also responding to post-pandemic workplace pressures to innovate to optimize employee productivity and job satisfaction.
“Most people like working remotely, and it’s proving successful,” Hensil said. “While our employees worked remotely, the state system successfully achieved several milestones in the system redesign, including securing the passage of state law, Act 50 of 2020, which allows the system to move forward with the redesign, integrating six of our universities into two universities that required approval The Mid-State Commission on Higher Education and the NCAA — restoring legislative confidence in the system and securing the largest increase in state funding in our history.”
The University Center building is located on a six-acre site that included five other buildings and an underground parking garage. It required extensive renovations when the system acquired it in 1992. Board approved its sale in August 2020.
“Our concern is that it will be put to very good use in the city,” Hensil said, noting that it was purchased by the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg to be used as community center. He added that the chancellor’s office has reserved a limited amount of office space in suburban Harrisburg for staff to use as needed.
Proceeds from the sale helped finance the July 1 consolidation of the university system of Edinboro University, California University of Pennsylvania, and Clarion University into the institution now known as Western Pennsylvania University—or PennWest. Months earlier, Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven universities in northeastern Pennsylvania consolidated called Commonwealth University.
“We would have educational deserts in the western and northeastern parts of our state,” PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein said of the system’s trajectory if the overhaul hadn’t happened. Almost 90 percent of PASSHE students are from Pennsylvania, and approximately two-thirds live and work in the state within ten years of graduation.
Telecommuting options can help college-educated employers optimize the hiring and retention of a talented workforce, according to the College and University Human Resources Professional Association 2021 research. Roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of survey respondents reported that their preferred and actual work organizations did not match — with the majority preferring more remote work options. Additionally, according to the study, employees who prefer to telecommute but do not have the option are more likely to look for work elsewhere. Many value their reduced carbon footprint and personal well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted higher education leaders to think flexible work options, although most of them have only taken preliminary steps. For example, one group of higher education leaders released a The structure of the Remote Work Continuum to help lead conversations about work after the pandemic. The framework reminds leaders that teleworking in higher education should not be an all-or-nothing proposition. Between the traditional university model and the 100 percent distance model, the framework offers three hybrid models that vary in degree. For example, an educational institution may have the same, “possibly less,” or “significantly less” office space on campus without giving up office space on campus entirely. In addition, some employees may work some days remotely or on a permanent basis. Hybrid models also feature flexible office space and meeting spaces for remote staff. Many universities now offer their own supervisors management for flexible working decisions.
Like PASSHE leaders, administrators at Kansas State University’s Global Campus helped address budget issues by moving to permanent remote workforce in 2021. The move has saved the university about $200,000 annually.
Yet as higher education leaders consider the future of work, only a small percentage (17 percent) foresee an increase in hybrid staffing, and even fewer (2 percent) expect an increase in permanent remote staffing. survey from EAB, the Education Advisory Board. IT, finance and procurement departments are expected to see the greatest growth in flexible work schedules.
Despite the noteworthy benefits, such as reduced on-site space requirements, financial benefits, and attracting top talent, colleges and universities that choose remote staffing also face some challenges. Information security officers must rethink data privacy for remote employees, particularly with respect to “cloud provider management, endpoint detection and response, multi-factor authentication or single sign-on, data integrity and authenticity, research security, privacy and student data management.”
PASSHE executives were drawn to telecommuting because of the reduced space requirements, the ability to attract top talent and the cost savings, according to Hensill, who struggled to name a downside. The recent consolidation of PASSHE universities has put the institution on a solid financial footing. But like many other states, Pennsylvania’s demand for college-educated workers far outstrips its supply. The chancellor plans to fill this gap both by better serving traditional students and by expanding the system’s reach to non-traditional students. According to Greenstein, faculty and staff may need cultural competency training to recruit and support a much larger and more diverse group of nontraditional students.
“Financial stabilization is hard, but this next phase seems more difficult to me,” Greenstein said. “You need to change behavior, thinking and ways of doing things at the individual level.”