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A cruel summer of PA college closures

Plus, where PA Dems stand on Biden bid.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Wednesday, July 10, 2024
Today: Cruel summer, down-ballot dilemma, 'left-behind counties,' Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and PA's new license plates.

At least four private Pennsylvania colleges have announced plans to close their doors in recent weeks, disrupting students' education.

The reasons behind the closures vary, TribLIVE reports, but trends point to declining enrollment and accreditation issues. A fifth school, Waynesburg University, has been warned its accreditation could be in jeopardy

The Hechinger Report says on average about one U.S. university or college has announced plans to close or merge per week this year, displacing students, most of whom wind up leaving higher education for good. 

“It’s traumatizing to have that rug pulled out,” Stephen Wells, provost at Community College of Allegheny County, told TribLIVE.

The Hechinger Report adds of impacted students: "Fewer than half transfer to other institutions, a State Higher Education Executive Officers Association study found. Of those, fewer than half stay long enough to get degrees. Many lose credits when they move from one school to another and have to spend longer in college, often taking out more loans to pay for it."

An April piece by CNN on the closure of Cabrini University in Radnor after 67 years touched on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected enrollment, and the end of related federal aid that kept many schools afloat.

Public universities are not immune from such pressures. At Pennsylvania's largest, Penn State, enrollment declines are being linked to a budget shortfall now driving buyouts and other belt-tightening measures.


"It’s a ridiculous precedent to set that my university, Temple, is disciplining me for being part of the Penn encampment and getting arrested."

An unnamed Temple student on disciplinary action taken against them by Temple over a pro-Palestine protest at UPenn; the Temple News reports communication between the schools preceded the action.
A woman in Berks County shares what local news coverage she wants to read as part of a Spotlight PA study
Berks County residents are extremely frustrated with the diminished capacity of the local newspaper and they are concerned about a lack of access to trustworthy information in their community, according to a groundbreaking study by Spotlight PA.

In response to the findings, Spotlight PA is planning to launch a new regional reporting bureau in Berks County to be supported primarily by people living and working in the region. Read the full story, and then support the effort »

ROCKY WATERS: Join us Thursday, July 18 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live panel on Pennsylvania’s private water industry, how it is regulated, and how communities are affected when service is subpar. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

An airplane over Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, via Don N. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
A low-flying plane over buildings.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.WILD'S WARNING: It was internal polling indicating President Joe Biden could be a drag on down-ballot Democrats in November that led U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D., Pa.) to air concerns about his candidacy in a call with other Democrats Saturday, News of the United States reports. Wild is one of those down-ballot candidates, and the Morning Call (paywall) says the Biden comments could complicate her bid.

• Where Pa. Dems stand on Biden bid, via The Inquirer (paywall).

• Pa. voters go independent 'at expense of Dems,' via Politics PA.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.
GOING PLACES: Lackawanna County is among the "left behind counties" that added jobs five times faster in the first three years of the Biden administration than they did in the first three years under Trump, the New York Times (paywall) reports, citing this Economic Innovation Group study. The exact reasons aren't known yet, but years of pandemic movement and money may be among them.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.GASSED UP: A federal court has quietly blocked a Biden administration pause on approvals of new natural gas exports, the same that prompted a rare rebuke from Pennsylvania's two sitting Democratic U.S. senators. Politico reported on warnings that the move could hurt his chances of winning Pennsylvania in the fall. Grist, meanwhile, has a look at the short-lived policy's negligible impact and what might come next
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.
FIRING SPREE: Blair County commissioners were set to fire "the most experienced employee" in their office on Tuesday, The Mirror reports. The why wasn't exactly clear. Commissioners say they're taking a more proactive role in operations. The paper notes they fired a human resources director and terminated a solicitor earlier this year.
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.
VENDOR SCHEME: A "vendor impersonator scheme" has cost Westmoreland County a "significant" amount of money," per TribLIVE. “This was not a data breach,” the county's municipal authority solicitor, Scott Avolio, told the outlet. “It was literally a fraud.” Avolio said operations won't be impacted. An investigation is underway. 
BETTER BAY: The ecologically vital and heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay is getting better. The nation’s largest estuary received its highest health grade in 20 years Tuesday: a C-plus. Pennsylvania got some credit.

'LET FREEDOM RING': Pennsylvania has new Philly-centric highway welcome signs and license plates ahead of the America's 250th birthday in 2026. They were unveiled by the Shapiro administration Tuesday.

BERYL FORECAST: The remnants of Hurricane Beryl are moving north and expected to reach Pennsylvania today. The Weather Channel on Tuesday said tornadoes are possible in the northern tier.

THREE MILE: Activist Gene Stilp is planning a protest at Three Mile Island on Monday. Stilp opposes a Maryland company's plan to partially restart operations at the nuclear plant, site of a partial meltdown in 1979.

GETTING BIGGER: Is your town one of the 14 fastest-growing in Pennsylvania? Courier Times (paywall) has the list: All but one are in the eastern part of the state. Most municipalities are shrinking.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be countedPlease include your first name and last initial.

Yesterday's answer: Aardvark
Congrats to our daily winners: Eric F., Ada M., David T., Bob C., Jeff F., Johnny C., Bruce B., Jane R., Rhashidah P.-J., Judith D., Beth H., Karen W., Jody A., Carolyn R., Daniel M., George C., Pat E., Stacy S., Ceil W., Lynne E., Don H., Jon W., Rosemary C., Elizabeth R., Connie A. O., Benjamin M., Annette I., Cynthia B., Art Z., Ted W., Daniel S., Thomas B., Wendy A., Vanessa J., Beth T., Richard A., Eddy Z., Elaine C., Kimberly D., Carol L., Matt A., Timothy A., Becky C., Karyl S., Stanley J., Georgina L., Nell M. A., Marie B., George B., John P., Karen K., Mary S., Liza J. B., James D., Leslie B., William Z., Deb W., Antoinette F., Susan N.-Z., Michael T., Kerry T., Perry H., Starr B., Tom M., and Marc G.
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