Decade in review: Q&A with Michael Hannan

Category:  News
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 at 9:00 AM

In looking back at a decade, a great deal of change is bound to occur. This holds true for Edinboro University. 

To provide some thoughts and commentary on the matters that have most affected EU, The Spectator sat down with Dr. Michael Hannan, Edinboro’s provost and vice president for academic and student affairs. Having been at Edinboro for just over 30 years, he has seen the university from a unique vantage point, even serving as interim university president for a period beginning in 2018. We covered the highs and lows of the decade, ranging from what he believes to be our greatest accomplishments, to what ended up being the toughest decisions.  

This is “Ten Topics, Ten Years.”

Nathan Brennan: What do you think was Edinboro’s greatest accomplishment in the past decade?

Michael Hannan: I would say probably the creation of the Learning Commons in the library. Back in 2012, the Academic Success Center was created to be housed there. Academic Success Coordinators, which we hadn’t had previously, those positions were created and the whole office was staffed. That expanded to include supervision of tutoring, the Writing Center and the career development office. I think that’s probably one of the big achievements.

NB: What do you think it’s accomplished for the campus and the students?

MH: I think it has provided ready access to students for academic support and other types of student supports. We also have our adult transfer student office located there, so that has provided greater access for those students to get that kind of assistance.

A focus on STEM

NB: Another thing we wanted to focus on was STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career paths. Does the university have plans to continue expanding these programs into the future?

MH: Yes. Most recently, we had launched a new program in data analytics, which is, if you think about all of the STEM areas, there is growth nationally, but in terms of employment growth within STEM, some of the largest growth is in areas like applied mathematics and computer science. Data analytics is a field that seems to be one of the fastest growth employment fields, and it’s actually a combination of those two fields.  

We do have strong programs in biology, chemistry and the geosciences. We just launched a new program recently, also, in geographic information sciences, which is another STEM program. We reorganized our pre-medical programming into a new degree in health sciences that was just done in the last couple of years, which is a further commitment to what we consider an emphasis in STEM-H programming since it includes health sciences beyond the traditional STEM areas.

NB: is that one of your main focuses moving forward, just the STEM area? Or are there any areas that you’re looking at?

MH: I think there’s no doubt that the STEM area is going to remain a high-demand area, so we’re going to continue to focus on that, but we certainly also want to build off our other strengths that we have at the university.  

We’re celebrating 100 years of commitment to art education this year, and art remains one of the largest programs at the university. So we do have a commitment to maintaining our strength in that area. But we have also seen strong demand during this decade, in particular, for professional programs. So business and education, particularly in education at the graduate level, are going to continue to be emphasis areas.

Edinboro-Meadville Campus

NB: One of the other important developments from this decade that we wanted to focus on was the departure of the Meadville campus. Frank G. Pogue in 2003 had this particular quote that said, “Generations of residents in Crawford County in northwestern Pennsylvania will have their lives enriched by this building.” What do you think the legacy of that campus is, looking back on this decision?

MH: Well, Edinboro had offered courses in Meadville even prior to that. 2003 was the start of our operations at what was called the Bessemer Center. It was actually an old railroad car repair building that was converted into two floors of classrooms and a computer lab. It was a good spot.  

The problem that occurred over time was that enrollment and demand wasn’t sufficiently strong in Meadville to maintain any real breadth of programming or coursework there. What we also found was that many of our Crawford County students were instead taking the relatively short commute to main campus to meet their educational needs, and so it wasn’t really financially viable after...I think it was around 2012 or so when we ended our operations in Meadville.

NB: Where was the budget that was spent for the Meadville area redirected?

MH: In the last several years of operations, that operation actually lost money, so there wasn’t any redirection of those funds.

Music program cuts

NB: We’ve also seen a pivot in the music program at Edinboro. The most noted development was that it was cut, so I thought we’d start there. It’s a newer building on campus, and the program was cut, so what reverberations have been felt after that move over the last few years?

MH: I think this may be the last year where the last of the majors will graduate from that program. It’s a difficult decision to end any program. Music was, in the last decade, not a very large program.  

Back in 2013, there had been an analysis done of multiple programs and music was one of them that showed that, because of its size and the expense of a music program, that program did lose a significant amount of money per year to operate it. It’s not unexpected, because to have a legitimate, high-quality music program, you do need to have a lot of individual instrument lessons, which is expensive.  

So the program was restructured to be still high-quality, but more efficient in 2013, and we moved forward with continuing to recruit for it and to offer that version of the program. And then, in later years, further analysis showed that demand still wasn’t very strong for the program and it continued to not be financially viable, and so the decision was made to put the program on moratorium but to continue a commitment to music on campus by continuing multiple ensembles on campus. The pipes and drums ensemble would continue, marching band would continue, and some of the other ensembles such as chorus would continue. We would also continue to offer music courses for general education, so students could always take music courses. We would continue to offer private lessons through the community music school that’s associated with the music department, and actually use some of the funds that had previously been for music major scholarships to help subsidize students that wanted to take music lessons through a music minor.

NB: Do you feel those efforts since the program has been cut have been successful?

MH: We really won’t know until the program has completely ended; the program continues right now. But all of those pieces still exist: the private music lessons, the ensembles, and music in general education continues to be offered uninterrupted into the future.

Faculty strike 2016

NB: Another thing that we wanted to point out over the decade was in 2016: the faculty strike. Has the university felt a lasting effect from this?

MH: I think the university picked up and continued functioning pretty quickly after that strike. It was only a three-day strike. I think that there is probably still some remaining hard feelings on the part of some staff at the university over that strike, but I think that we have picked up and continued to try to meet our mission since that time.

Highlands and dorm life

NB: When we think of the success or failure of Edinboro, another thing that The Spectator brought up was the occupancy of the Highlands. We do have a fairly big commuter population, as well as a lot of off-campus housing available. How important is on-campus living for the university and the students?

MH: I think it’s really important. Actually, this year, we are at 83% occupancy for our residence halls, and that includes Highlands one through six and Towers A, at least part of Towers A. We did have Rose and part of Earp open last year, but it was most efficient to really move students who were living in traditional housing to be all in the same community.  

And I think that what we had found here was, and there are national studies that show this as well, that student retention is generally higher for students that live on-campus than that commute or live off-campus. So, I think it’s very important to give students a sense of community and a sense of connection to the university to live on-campus if they can.  

I know I’ve spoken with some students who lived here for two years and then they lived off-campus, and [they] expressed that it is more of an effort to feel like they’re a part of all the activities on campus if they’re not actually living here.

NB: I know you mentioned involvement and retention. How does the university convince students that that’s the most productive use of their time in their four years here?

MH: I think that we have to, as a university administration, probably better demonstrate the benefits of being on-campus. Why living in what can be a very modern, suite-style, almost-apartments without a kitchen, or living in traditional housing, which is becoming actually increasingly popular again, gives you greater and easier access to the library, to academic support services, to the tutoring, to the many academic and cultural events that we hold in the evenings, and to the many student organizations and the types of activities that they hold on-campus.  

I think that’s a message that we need to continue to put out and to reiterate to students. Part of that benefit of living on-campus is that easier access to be part of all of that.

NB: When I say, “The future of dorms,” what comes to mind?

MH: I think the future of residence halls is a combination of traditional and suite-style housing, because I think there are benefits to both. Actually, some studies looking at the newest generation of students shows that they have a stronger interest in traditional housing arrangements that allow for greater community building that you would find like in Towers. Still some interest in suite-style housing, because that’s probably more similar to living in a home, but I see a combination of those.  

I also see the future being many more themed opportunities in living. So living learning communities, or just general theme interest areas of living where you can have groups of students who just may not have the same major, but have the same interests, whether they’re academic or social interests, living together in the residence halls.

Attendent care program

NB: Another issue that we want to try to focus on is the dissolution of the personal care program, a big moment from the past decade. When you think about that decision, what comes to mind?

MH: What comes to mind was a very difficult transition year for everyone who was involved in that. It unfortunately was a necessary transition to move students to community-based services. The decision was not made lightly, and I think that it was the right decision given the way that funding for students to be able to have those accommodations changed. Also, part of our goal as a university is to try to not just educate students, but to prepare them to be successful and independent after they graduate. I think that for students that need attendant care services, giving them that experience while they’re here on campus with community-based services is only going to make the transition to independent living after college easier. 

NB: After the decision, the university did receive a little bit of blowback. So I saw that in September of that year, you put out a message on the website — I believe it was sent out to all the students and faculty as well — trying to soften the blow. What feedback have you gotten from the population of students regarding this message and the changes that were made?  

MH: Clearly, thinking back to that time, certainly the students that were impacted were obviously incredibly unhappy about that change needing to occur. They had, I think, significantly greater anxiety because of the unknown of how care would take place, which is completely understandable. That’s why we made the announcement when we did to try to allow 11 months of time to help work with that transition to make it as smooth as possible.  

There are also others in the broader university community who were very concerned about that change, and we tried to answer their questions about the reasons for the change, and what our model was for how those students would continue to be able to be university students here on-campus. Just with the delivery of the service not being from us as employees but from other community services. 

During this past summer, we did make a number of changes to the residence halls to accommodate students that had been in that program, including special doorknobs so that they could get in and out of their doors more easily, and also, in some cases, depending on the student, electronic door openers so that they could get in and out of their dormitories more easily.  

They had previously been housed in Rose, so this allowed them to live in either the Highlands or Towers, Towers being the more similar [situation] to Rose. We’ve had the students choosing both, they’re sort of split between those two, and my hope is that they feel more part of the whole university community there than when they were more isolated at the other location.  

We also made a number of arrangements in terms of how their community-based service providers could have easy access to them in the residence halls while preserving the safety of all residents. There was a lot of planning that went into allowing them to obviously make choices as to who they wanted to be their service providers. [It was also important] having the services of a service-coordinating agency available right on campus to assist them in that transition, or to assist them with any problems that arise with their caregivers, and in providing access for those providers to get in and out or dormitories or any place on campus where the student service was needed.

NB: Of course, this was all happening when you were Interim President. You mentioned it was difficult but necessary. Why was it such a difficult time period?  

MH: Well, whenever you make a decision that creates anxiety for people, that makes for a difficult time. I don’t think any of us like to make decisions that are going to make people unhappy, or insecure, or anxious. And obviously, students who were in that program were very comfortable with the types of service that the university was providing directly. Certainly, any change to that, especially when you’re reliant for assistance with daily tasks, it’s very difficult to tell people that it’s going to be different. That’s why I think that was a very difficult decision because of the known stress it would cause people, and that’s why we tried to bring in other, local providers and service coordinating agency personnel from the beginning so that they could work with students and their families to help answer those types of questions and so that they could transition to community services.

Empty ‘Boro buildings 

NB: You had mentioned Rose Hall, so that brings me to my next question: there are a number of buildings that are not being utilized fully on campus, including Rose. They made the transition out of Earp, as well. What are some solutions that you’ve heard in your position about solving this issue of empty buildings? 

MH: Since we’re a state university, all of the spaces are owned by the state, and we have been working with the Department of General Services and also working with the state system in Harrisburg with their finance administration office about how to address the excess space. So, we are sort of finalizing a plan with them about buildings which we do not see needing in the foreseeable future — given what projected enrollments may be over the next decade or longer, and the age of certain buildings and the functionality they have — as to which of those buildings should be retained and which of those buildings should be just taken down and the space reclaimed for other purposes on campus.  

That isn’t final yet, but it should be probably within the next few months in terms of what buildings would likely be razed effectively to make other spaces.

Edinboro University and community efforts

NB: The community of Edinboro and the university seem like they both benefit each other. Where do we need to see growth in the relationship between Edinboro and the community? Is that something that the university is actively working on?

MH: Yeah, actually for the last couple of years, I think that there has been a really good improvement in, they call them, “town and gown” relationships, between the university and the local community business leaders. Also with local community political leaders, to try to do more joint projects.

Last summer, for instance, the university, working in cooperation with the borough, hosted a fourth of July fireworks and small festival right on campus. There hadn’t been fireworks in Edinboro in probably 15 years prior to that. We had hundreds of people from all over the county that came down onto campus for that.

There are festivals that, like music, art festivals, are hosted downtown that are coordinated with the university’s calendar so that we can participate in those and they can support other events that we hold.

Our grants office at the university also works with the borough to see if there are grant opportunities that are mutually beneficial to the whole community that we can participate in. We’ve done a couple of those types of projects.

A vibrant downtown community is really important for the university to be successful, and I think obviously the community realizes that they can’t have a vibrant downtown if the university isn’t successful. We have this mutual interest in really working collaboratively together.

There has been some new leadership in the borough office, which has been very positive about doing outreach to work with the community, and they worked with me quite a bit when I was in the interim position. They’re working with our current president, and they worked with our previous president.  

NB: A lot of students probably wouldn’t know a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into that.

MH: In fact, just today, there was a "town and gown" committee, that has leadership from the community and leadership from the university, that meet on a quarterly basis.

Edinboro in 10 Years

NB: When considering, of course, the past 10 years, we also look to the future. So where do you see Edinboro in 10 years?

MH: I would see the university as probably being a little larger than it is presently. I would see the university as having more online and flexibly delivered programs than we do now; I would see that expanding.

We have a large graduate program. I would see the graduate programs being even a larger share of total enrollment than they are now, but I would see the flexible delivery of programs, meaning either online or flexibly offered both face-to-face and online, also being more prevalent in our undergraduate programs. 

I would also see the university having a much larger student body among adult and nontraditional students. I see the university having a greater presence in offering microcredentials, certifications and certificates, both for pre-baccalaureate individuals who don't want a degree but need certain types of specialized training...but also having those types of credentials integrated in with our undergraduate programs. Then also [being] available for students who have already graduated but need life-long learning.

A number of those types of concepts are things that we are working as we are implementing the most recent strategic plan for the university, which was just begun this past summer.

And also some of those pieces would be integrated into the academic master plan, which will be a complementary plan to the strategic plan.

NB: Do you believe the strategic plan will move these plans along toward these goals that you’ve set in mind, or are there trends that are already going toward that, ie. graduate enrollment, general enrollment, program growth?

MH: I think that there is some movement toward that naturally already, but I think that we are going to be doing it much more intentionally and much more strategically because of the elements that we’ve embedded in the strategic plan. 

NB: What do you wish Edinboro was into, whether it be a program, a campus life thing…what do you wish we were into that we’re not pursuing right now?

MH: Let’s see...I think that I wish the university was much more developed in terms of its on-campus living communities. I think that we have some successful living-learning communities that are doing very well, but we could do so much more in that sense, and also do much more in terms of student engagement on campus and creating and developing a climate on campus where students are excited to be on campus because of the range of activities that are available for them here. We’ve made some investments in trying to move in that direction, but that's something that would be great if we already had it in place.

NB: If you would see the learning communities expand, how would you go about doing that?

MH: That is going to be a joint effort by working with student leaders to make sure that we are building something that they actually want, but also it will be individuals in leadership, and student affairs, and residence life, and in the academic departments that all jointly need to work together to make those communities happen. In some cases, we have some that are already successful, but there has to be a strong commitment from student life, residence life, and from academic departments to have faculty and staff that want to work together to make those vibrant communities.

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