(Butler, PA) Executives of two institutions of higher education in Mercer County today announced the launch of a feasibility study that could result in the first Pennsylvania community college site to be located on a Penn State University Commonwealth Campus.
The feasibility study will be led by academic and financial representatives to be selected from Butler County Community College’s additional location of BC3 @ LindenPointe in Hermitage and Penn State Shenango in Sharon. The study will explore opportunities for shared resources while educating each institutions’ students separately at Penn State Shenango.
The concept is prompted by a shared goal to sustain affordable and accessible higher education near Sharon amid declining enrollments and projections of fewer potential students.
Kindergarten through 12th-grade enrollment in public schools in Crawford, Lawrence and Mercer counties was nearly 45,000 in 2004-2005, according to the state Department of Education. It is projected to be 28,500 in 2032-2033, a decline of nearly 37 percent.
“These are two strong institutions that are looking into joining forces to sustain the delivery of affordable and accessible higher education in the Shenango Valley,” said Dr. Nick Neupauer, BC3’s president. “That’s incredibly important. In this day and age, it is not about being in silos. It’s about the synergy involved with collaborations and partnerships.”
Penn State Shenango has served the greater Sharon region since 1963 and Butler County Community College, since 1997.
“Penn State Shenango looks forward to discussing the opportunity to strengthen our partnership with Butler County Community College and continuing to work together to ensure that our residents have access to post-secondary education,” said Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, Penn State Shenango’s campus director.
Penn State Shenango and BC3 @ LindenPointe are located within five miles of each other. Enrollment at Penn State Shenango for fall 2023 is projected to be approximately 325 and at BC3 @ LindenPointe, about 55. Ten years ago this fall, enrollment at Penn State Shenango was about 570 and at BC3 @ LindenPointe, about 270.
The feasibility study announcement comes five months after Gov. Josh Shapiro said that Pennsylvania needed to reevaluate its higher education system in light of declining enrollments and “because what we’re doing isn’t working.”
“Colleges (are) competing with one another for a limited dollar, duplicating degree programs, driving up costs and actually reducing access,” Shapiro said in his 2023 budget address.
The institutions will study degree offerings to avoid duplication and explore academic programs to benefit local workforce needs.
BC3 @ LindenPointe offers associate degrees in 15 programs and Penn State Shenango, in five.
Penn State Shenango has bachelor’s degrees in seven programs. Executives will also explore pathways for the seamless transfer of BC3 credits toward bachelor’s degrees at select Penn State campuses and the sharing of space.
Penn State and BC3 will continue to be accredited separately by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, executives said.
No other Penn State University Commonwealth Campus or BC3 additional location is considering a colocation, executives said.
University President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi emphasized the important role that Penn State Shenango and all Commonwealth Campuses play in terms of opening doors for and promoting social mobility of those who attend.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses and look forward to the outcomes of this study, and to the ways it might further advance our shared mission for Pennsylvania students,” Bendapudi said.
The result of the feasibility study is expected by Dec. 31. Among factors to be considered will be the sale of the BC3 @ LindenPointe building owned by the BC3 Education Foundation.