Penn State officials did attend a Mifflin County Planning Commission meeting this week about the discontinuation of for-credit courses in Lewistown.
The move, announced last fall, will go into effect in 2017.
Penn State had told the planning commission that it would be unable to make the meeting but planning director Bill Gomes said that three representatives from the university did attend.
The discussion centered around how to fill the gap. Mifflin County does not have another four-year postsecondary school nor a community college. There is a vocational school, the Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology, which offers an LPN program, and the Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital School of Nursing, which trains RNs.
South Hills School of Business and Technology also has a campus in Lewistown.
Kay Hamilton, the chief administration officer at Geisinger-Lewistown, said in a letter to the commission that the loss of the for-credit courses will have an impact on the school.
In addition to the loss of an educational partner for the nursing school, and the effect on RN students who want to pursue a baccalaureate degree, there is the question of the simulation lab.
“The lab was created in 2009 through an agreement between Penn State and Lewistown Hospital,” Hamilton wrote.
According to Geisinger, Lewistown Hospital put up $50,000 in equipment for the lab, the LPN program put up another $50,000, a Department of Labor and Industry grant covered $195,983, and Penn State covered the remaining costs. Geisinger students were to have access to the facility at the Penn State Lewistown Learning Center through 2019.
“We would like to continue the simulation lab if we can reach an agreement on that with Penn State,” Hamilton wrote, saying the lab is used for other programs, too.
Penn State’s Vice President of Outreach and Online Craig Weidemann said the Lewistown center doesn’t have enough students to make it viable.
“We think there has been some miscommunication,” he said. “We are not ending our presence. We are ending for-credit classes.”
Penn State invited some of the Mifflin County players to a February meeting.
“We want to share some data, listen to people’s concerns and hear what the issues are. We want to talk about our intent,” Weidemann said.
The university’s World Campus, the online arm of Penn State, could be an option for filling the void.
“We hope that for students down there that are interested, that could be a very good option. We have put a tremendous amount of resources into online learning,” Weidemann said.
Penn State World Campus has been the top-rated bachelor’s degree-granting online program in the U.S. for two years in a row, according to U.S. News and World Report.