University Talks Finance to Staff: Relates Budget Issues to Drop in Enrollment

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 at 9:59 PM
University Talks Finance to Staff: Relates Budget Issues to Drop in Enrollment by Tracy Geibel

Edinboro University’s current budget situation was compared to Slippery Rock University’s in the late 1990s.

With spring break fast approaching, interim president Dr. David J. Werner, along with provost and vice president for academic affairs Dr. Michael J. Hannan, gathered a considerable amount of Edinboro University’s faculty — everyone was invited to come — into the Frank G. Pogue Student Center multipurpose room on Tuesday, March 1 for a presentation on the university’s financial situation.

After a short introduction by Werner and Hannan, vice president for finance and administration, Guilbert L. Brown began his presentation, “Where We Are, How We Got Here, and The Path Forward.” He discussed the budget, its effects and how factors like declining enrollment has contributed to the situation.

Werner, who has been serving as the interim president since mid-January following former president Dr. Julie Wollman’s resignation, has been focusing largely on the budget situation since arriving in Edinboro.

“My job is to plan for the viable new president and make it possible that we will attract someone who will want to come here and spend at least five to seven years to provide stability,” Werner said. “It is critical that we get the budget situation under control…or we are not going to be able to attract the type of candidate that we want.”

He has looked at the budget and other issues that make it into a problem. While he intends to spend only a short time at Edinboro, Werner plans to work continually to fix the budget. He hopes that through his current efforts, the university will sit in a stable position within two or three years.

Tuition and fees account for 67 percent of revenues. When student enrollment falls, the amount of revenue falls as a result. Its impact is significant enough that even a 1 percent change in either the tuition rate or enrollment makes approximately a $500K difference.

Enrollment at Edinboro University peaked in 2010 with over 8,600 students. Between then and 2015, enrollment has decreased by 24.2 percent to about 6,500 students.

Hannan said that the addition of the Highland buildings likely contributed to the 2010 spike in enrollment.

“I think we had a little bit of a bump when it first opened, but then, it became the same as what everybody else in the western [Pennsylvania] and even the eastern schools had,” Hannan said.

“To not make that investment, maybe not as big as we did, but to not make that investment would have also been a mistake because we [were not] competitive in that sense."

Low enrollment standards may have also led to the drop in students following 2010. Brown said that low admission standards can do students and the university both a “dis-service,” as it’s difficult to retain students who aren’t college-ready.

“You bring in ill-prepared students, and they don’t stay,” Brown said.

Not the lowest in the PASSHE system, just below 70 percent of students who came to Edinboro in 2013 returned for their second year of college. Over 60 percent of students who came in 2012 returned for a third year, and about 54 percent of students who came in 2011 returned for a fourth year. That’s consistently 10 percentage points behind Slippery Rock and West Chester. Edinboro is in nearly the same situation as East Stroudsburg in regards to student retention.

In the late 1990s, however, Slippery Rock University experienced declining enrollment multiple years in a row.

“In 1999, president Bob [Robert] Smith went to the Slippery Rock faculty and said ‘we don’t want to continue down this path,’” Brown said.

Edinboro University plans to implement changes to better this rate. By providing more feedback to students early in the semester, starting multi-semester scheduling and revising the remedial math program, the university hopes to keep students at Edinboro longer. It will also begin using the Starfish Retention Solutions Software, where students will be able to better find the people and resources they need.

Brown says he isn’t relying on any “magical solutions.” He said that it is unlikely that the university will see mass retirements or resignations of staff members who don’t need replaced. The university can’t plan in hopes of such an occurrence.

But he does plan to have a balanced budget by July 1, 2018. Under the guidance of William Edmonds, the new associate vice president for enrollment services, the university intends to improve recruitment by using scholarships.

The university hopes to hire less temporary faculty and increase class sizes. The student to faculty ratio was just over 18 in 2015. The goal is to return it back to the almost 20 that the university had in 2011.

In the meantime, the university is considering moving faculty offices from Centennial to Dearborn. It has consolidated traditional housing to Rose Hall so that Earp may be used otherwise. Such decisions are being made in hopes of saving money.

The reason the faculty was gathered to the student center was to make them aware of the situation.

“I think the institution is at one of those pivot points where it’s critical that faculty not only understand the financial circumstances we are in, but in a real sense… the faculty will be part of the solution to our financial circumstances,” Brown said.

He hopes that faculty will embrace the changes in store for Edinboro and make use of programs like Starfish.

Slippery Rock was able to overcome its enrollment decline in the late 1990s and Brown is optimistic that Edinboro will be able to do the same.

“We can do this,” Brown said.

Tracy Geibel is the Executive Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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