By the turn of the century, Penn State will be a quite different university. It will have its own law school, and students in Philadelphia will be able to earn a four-year Penn State degree while living at home.
These changes will result from two decisions announced this week: the merger of the Dickinson School of Law into Penn State, and the approval by state Education Secretary Eugene Hickok of the university's plan for branch campuses to offer upper-level courses.
And both decisions will significantly strengthen Penn State's presence in the Capital Region. Both of its professional schools -- law and medicine -- will be here, and Penn State Harrisburg will be offering four-year undergraduate degree programs after the Schuylkill County campus is merged with the upper- and graduate-level campus in Lower Swatara Twp. into an expanded Capital College.
The reorganization proposal that expands branch campus curricula has not been without controversy. Most other colleges and universities in the state had concerns about Penn State competing with them in their towns for undergraduate students.
President Graham Spanier, however, said Penn State's intent was not to draw students away from other schools, but to satisfy the wishes of many students on the Commonwealth campuses who wished to stay there to complete their degrees, rather than having to move to University Park or transfer to another four-year college.
While Penn State's acquisition of Dickinson Law has been the stuff of rumors over the years, last Friday's vote by the law school board to join Penn State caught most people by surprise, especially Dickinson students and alumni, who have expressed mixed views on the decision. Several of those interviewed by The Patriot-News were sad over the loss of independence -- Dickinson is the oldest independent law school in America -- but encouraged by the recognition that the Penn State name will bring to the 167-year-old Carlisle institution.
Penn State, of course, gains a law school, one that's already well respected.
But Dickinson, which will retain its name, will gain access to a large library, a respected faculty and one of the nation's most extensive telecommunications networks. Spanier has put ?distance learning' -- study from home and remote locations by computer connections -- high on his agenda for the university, and the law school is sure to have a key role in the program.
While the university's three Harrisburg-area units will retain their autonomy, each with its own dean, Penn State now has established itself both as a key educational and cultural resource for the Capital Region and as a major employer.
The only thing missing is a basketball team.