“Our job is to crumble or to rise up and meet the occasion, and we’re going to rise up and meet the occasion and bring on new degree programs and we’re going to fill the voids. That’s not going to be an overnight process. We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not getting out of this thing overnight,” Edinboro University President H. Fred Walker said to a group of about 250 students, faculty, staff and community members on Feb. 16.
At this meeting, Walker presented the findings of three working groups in the areas of academics, enrollment and finances at Edinboro University. The groups have been interpreting and evaluating the data from the university since December, assessing the various aspects of the university.
Walker emphasized this hour long meeting was solely to report the findings of the working groups, rather than analyze the data.
“Some of the data that you see is to be expected, some of the data that you’re going to see is probably going to be a surprise, and so it’s not going to serve this group well if we start having a series of questions as initial reactions before we have time to let things sink in,” Walker stated.
This fact-finding was the first phase of a three-phase process, according to Walker.
The data found during the first phase will be sent to an outside company to perform an external validation. After, there will be an analysis of the university’s strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats (S.C.O.T. analysis). The results of the external validation and S.C.O.T. analysis will be presented at a Town Hall meeting on March 22.
First, Walker went over the data per academic department. The majors that have had the highest enrollment rates for bachelor’s degrees over the last five years are criminal justice (1561 students), early childhood education and special education (1225 students), applied media arts-cinema (1206 students), human performance (644 students), and communication studies (587 students). Some of the bachelor’s degree programs with the lowest enrollment include secondary physics education (10 students), chemistry (11 students) and theatre arts (14 students); the highest enrolled postgraduate degrees include social work (1327 students), educational leadership (508 students), and middle/ secondary instruction (482 students).
Walker also discussed the enrollment changes and graduates in each of the degree programs in the past five years. For enrollment changes, the working groups compared the enrollment numbers from 2013 and 2016, noting the percent change in each degree program.
Among the highest increased degree programs were: a bachelor’s degree chemistry- biochemistry program (2,000 percent), a master’s degree early childhood education program (650 percent), an associate’s degree human services-social services program (311 percent), and a master’s degree social work program (102 percent).
Among the lowest were a bachelor’s degree art history program (-93 percent), a bachelor’s degree mathematics-actuarial science program (-93 percent), a bachelor’s graphic design program (-81 percent), and a bachelor’s secondary mathematics education program (-73 percent).
Walker next spoke about how many people graduated from the various degree programs within the last five years. The bachelor’s degree programs with the highest number of students graduated includes fine arts-applied media arts (416 students), business administration (415 students), criminal justice (332 students), individualized studies (318 students), and health and physical education (316 students). The master’s degree programs with the highest rates include social work (340 students), educational leadership (315 students), and reading (551 students).
Walker went over the college/school/ academic department net revenue ratios for the past three academic years. The overall average for the 2013-14 school year was 110 percent, the 2014-15 school year was 114 percent, and the 2015-16 school year was 125 percent; this meant that in each of the years overall revenue was higher than costs. However, for departments such as the art, journalism, music, biology and health services and chemistry, this was not the case as they each had percentages less than 100.
“I really need to emphasize one thing about this data: these are direct instructional costs, these are not the costs of running the university. When you look at any individual department and it says that we are producing 125 percent of our net revenue, that means that the direct expenses for the faculty in that department are covered at that level.”
He continued, “But you do not have a university with instructors alone, we have to have an admissions office, we have to have a bursar, (and) we have to have a library.”
The average faculty-to-student ratio at Edinboro in 2014 was 18.84 percent, compared to PASSHE’s 19.99 percent. Additionally, Edinboro’s student-to-staff ratio in 2014 was 14.74 percent, compared to PASSHE’s 14.39 percent.
Walker mentioned that as of April 2016, PASSHE was reviewing 140 degree proposals from the 14 state system schools, with only two of the proposals being from Edinboro. One proposed degree is an M.B.A business administration and the other is a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.
“We clearly need to get up and get moving with new degree proposals, but we’ve got to do so in a controlled manner that gives us some cohesion about the inventory,” said Walker.
In 2011, the four-year graduation rate for PASSHE and Edinboro was 38.7 percent and 26.8 percent. In 2009, the six-year graduation rate for 2009 was 59.9 percent (PASSHE) and 49.3 percent (Edinboro).
He said: “We are statistically significantly below performance indicators from PASSHE. We are. We are going to have to address this.”
“We have to take a look systemically at what we’re doing to make sure our students that we bring on this campus have the experience that allows them to stay here and complete their programs,”
Walker continued: “This should be alarming to everyone. It is to me. This has got to change.”
Walker said that attrition among PASSHE, and especially Edinboro, has created a significant problem with the university’s net operating budget. In 2014, it was the second year PASSHE attrition rate was 21.9 percent, as compared to Edinboro’s 30.2 percent.
The fourth-year attrition rate for PASSHE in 2012 was 34 percent, compared to Edinboro’s 42.7 percent. According to Walker’s presentation, the attrition of 100 Edinboro students impacts the university’s net operating budget by an estimated $1 million to $2.6 million.
“You just cannot make the case that we don’t have some improvements to make,” Walker said.
Over the last five years, enrollment at Edinboro has decreased by 28.1 percent, and high school graduation rates in Pennsylvania have decreased by 5.85 percent. Between fall 2012 and fall 2016, Edinboro enrollment decreased 17.2 percent. Over the last five years, the university’s acceptance rate has increased nearly 20 percent.
“About 16 percent of our enrollment loss over the last five years are from students voting with tuition dollars to go to another university within the state. Why is that?” Walker asked.
He continued: “We’re not an open enrollment institution, but we’re not far from it. Those numbers have downstream effects. As our enrollments have decreased, the admissions funnel has opened to admit more students, so that we can maintain our operating revenues and make payroll. We have taken into this university a large number of students who are struggling academically and leave the university because it’s not a good fit.”
According to Walker, over the next decade, the high school catchment area is projected to decrease in the top five counties where most students come from.
By increasing admissions standards, the working groups predict there would be a yearly decrease of anywhere from 96 and 179 students in freshmen enrollment, in the event the university used the 1050 and 1140 matrix scores for admission decisions. Because of that change, the six-year graduation rate is predicted to increase from 47.8 percent to between 49.1 and 49.9 percent.
Walker then discussed loan debt per student post-graduation. Eighty-seven percent of Edinboro students in 2014 had loan debt, and the average debt level is $32,587. Of the 2014 and 2015 school years, 53.4 percent of students received Pell grants; 94 percent of Edinboro students receive some sort of financial aid. According to a calculation of tuition, room and board, fees, books and supplies, the cost of one academic year at Edinboro is $26,038.
Walker emphasized that when students leave or transfer schools in their second years, the estimated loss due to attrition is nearly $6 million. With attrition in the third year, the cost is an estimated $10 million, and in the fourth year it’s an estimated $13 million.
Approximately 36 percent of the student body used campus resources such as the career database; mock interviews with interviewing skills development; internship support; career and major exploration; resume writing support; internship, field study and practicum experiences; and job and career fair participation.
Over the last five years, new and transfer student enrollment has stayed steady, ranging from about 2,000 to 2,200 new students per year.
Edinboro’s annual revenue has fluctuated in the last three years, going from approximately $110 million in 2014 to $111 million in 2016. However, the university’s annual expenses are exceeding the revenue, leaving the university with a deficit of about $9 million in 2016. The projected deficit for June 2017, considering the costs associated with collective bargaining, is about $6.3 million.
Walker said: “We’re spending more money than we’re bringing in every year. Act 188 requires by law that we have a balanced budget every year, which we do have a balanced budget every year. The only way we’re balancing the budget is drawing down the reserves.”
In 2013, the university used $7.3 million from the reserves, and in 2016 it used $2.1 million to cover the deficit.
“The reserves have been drawn down to the point now [where] there’s not money to keep drawing down the reserves. So this is stopping,” Walker stated.
More than half of Edinboro’s annual budget goes toward faculty and staff salaries and benefits. In fact, 35.4 percent goes toward faculty and 29.5 goes toward staff. In addition to that, nearly $36 million goes towards non-personnel operating expenses for the university.
The factors that mainly contributed to the university’s deficit last year was not being able to increase tuition income, a decrease in enrollment, a variance of state support and funding, personnel costs, athletics costing greater than revenue, and reduction in scholarship funds.
Over the last three years, the university has received $13.3 million in gift revenue, which has mainly gone towards annually restricted funds, student financial aid and restricted endowment funds.
“When people decide to give gifts to the university, in almost every case those gifts are tied, and that means somebody is going to donate money for a scholarship or building enhancement...Those resources are not available for us to spend at will, and that’s a hard thing for academic communities sometimes to accept,” Walker said.
He continued: “Today is a major milestone. Today is our first town hall meeting. At some point, we’re going to have to sit down as a community and we’re going to have to say ‘what are we going to do?’”
Walker concluded the meeting by saying the university will be increasing its admissions standards in the fall of 2017, and again in the fall of 2018.
“We do have a path for moving forward. It is a framework, though. It is not a recipe,” Walker said.
He continued: “We are restructuring the DNA of our university, I need this community to be speaking with one voice. At the end of the day, we need one voice to move us forward, or we’re not going to be here.”
Dakota Palmer is the news editor for The Spectator and can be reached at email@example.com.