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Surviving the Storm

By Elaine Jacobs Smith
December 6, 2013
Appeared in the Fall-Winter 2013 issue of
IUP Magazine

As shrinking high school class sizes take their toll on student enrollment, IUP must rely on innovation to weather the challenge. 

How Alumni Can Help

In times of increased competition for a dwindling number of students, philanthropic support is more important than ever. But it’s not the only support IUP needs.

Bill Speidel, vice president for University Advancement, said that as he and his staff engage the university’s alumni and friends, they talk about the highlights but stress the challenges, too.

Students at the piano in the Northern Suites 313

“Certainly with the shrinking population of high school students—they can always relate to what the impact means to IUP. That’s why scholarships are more critical now than ever,” he said.

“There’s something about scholarships and knowing that your gift is going to directly benefit a student and that it can make the difference between the student coming to IUP or not. That resonates with most of our alumni.”

Tim Mack, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, emphasized the need for scholarships at the graduate level, as well. He knows of one graduate student whose parents lost their jobs and have since moved in with the student and another case in which a student sold his car to continue his graduate studies.

“If there’s one thing alumni can do, it’s give to scholarships,” he said. “Today, when people are walking around with such heavy debt loads, that thousand dollars is a lifesaver.”

Alumni have been increasingly responsive. Last year, more alumni invested in their alma mater than in the last six years, and alumni gifts totaled $2.6 million, about $600,000 more than the previous year.

Alumni also continue to be needed to represent IUP at college fairs and other recruitment events in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, according to Mike Husenits, director of Undergraduate Admissions. To join that effort, they should contact Elisa Goserud ’78, M’82 at 724-357-2665 or egoserud@iup.edu.

Speidel would like to see alumni, even informally, recruiting on IUP’s behalf, whether it’s their children or other children in their neighborhood. “They need to talk up IUP, because it’s a lot tougher and students have a lot more choices today. Alumni are our greatest success story, so if they’re proudly wearing their IUP letters and being proud about their institution, who knows what impact that could have?”

Help In-State Students

The Sutton Scholarship, a $2,000 scholarship renewable for up to four years based on academic performance, is for high-achieving students from Pennsylvania. Give to the Sutton Scholarship or any other scholarship at IUP.

Help Out-Of-State Students

By recommending an out-of-state student to IUP, alumni can earn that student a one-time, $500 credit toward his or her tuition.

Alumni must complete the online form or contact Elisa Goserud at 724-357-2665 for the student to be eligible. Because the budget for this program is limited, the deadline for submission is March 1, 2014.

Only one recommendation is allowed per alumnus or alumna. The nominated student must be a new freshman starting in the fall 2014 semester. This is a one-time award to be used for fall 2014 only. Alumni may recommend relatives for this discount.

At this time last year, IUP was basking in four straight years of record student enrollment but well aware that a change was due. So when this year’s figure came in at 14,728, a drop of about 650 students, it was met with somber expressions but little surprise.

The number of high school seniors in Pennsylvania, particularly the western side of the state, IUP’s primary market, has decreased steadily since 2008, with a rebound expected as late as 2020. While IUP has experienced a 2.6 percent decrease in students over a three-year period, many of its Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education sister schools have fared worse. Six have suffered double-digit percent decreases in the same time period; three have announced program cuts and work-force reductions since August. Only West Chester and Bloomsburg, situated on the other side of the state, have seen increases over the last three years.

According to Jim Begany, vice president for Enrollment Management and Communications, IUP’s ability to weather the demographic blows will come down to one word: innovation. Not just in recruiting students, but in program development and other activities across the university. “We need to think strategically moving forward, maximizing the resources we have to keep up with the challenges,” Begany said.

His forecasting shows that if enrollment were to continue to drop at its current rate, IUP would be down to 14,014 students by 2017—a budget nightmare for an institution already smarting from sharp cuts in state funding, from 36 percent to 26 percent of its revenue over the last seven years. IUP has made $28 million in permanent budget reductions during that time.

According to Bob Deemer ’79, budget director, every 100 students equates to approximately $799,000 in tuition and student fees annually, so a one-year decrease of 650 students amounts to a $5.2-million loss.

“Everybody has been really stepping up to the plate and doing more with less, but we’re to the point now where there’s very little room to do more cutting without adversely affecting the student experience,” Deemer said.

The Recruitment Challenge

Working with fewer resources and declining high school populations has made the job that much harder for Undergraduate Admissions. Those factors, on top of a static college-going rate and increased competition from colleges experiencing similar declines, have created what Director Mike Husenits ’93 describes as a “maelstrom of challenges” to student recruitment.

The admissions area received some help last year when the university provided $500,000 for the Office of Financial Aid to use to award need-based grants. At the same time, the university embarked on a major recruitment effort, the Sutton Scholars program, which offers $2,000 scholarships to high-achieving incoming freshmen from Pennsylvania.

The program includes the Sutton Scholarship, for which the Foundation for IUP has allocated upwards of $2 million to date, and the Board of Governors Scholarship, a tuition-waiver program authorized by the State System. Some of the scholarships are renewable for up to four years based on academic performance.

“The Foundation for IUP recognized the importance for us to be able to recruit high-ability students and was very supportive of that effort,” said Patricia Curran McCarthy ’89, associate vice president for Enrollment Management.

Following two mass interviews, the university made 367 scholarship offers, and 262 students (71.5 percent) accepted, becoming part of the fall 2013 freshman class. The group had an average SAT score of 1142 and GPA of 3.79, which helped to keep the quality of incoming students high amid the declining demographics, McCarthy said. Overall, the freshman class had an average high school GPA of 3.2 and SAT score of almost 1000.

The Sutton Scholars program offers participants an additional $800 scholarship each summer for four years to be used toward a summer academy featuring special courses, field trips, and other experiences. “It’s intended to build a sense of community among Sutton Scholars and give them a leg up on some academic work,” McCarthy said. Nineteen students participated in the first summer program.

In terms of recruitment, Husenits’s main concerns are getting prospective students to visit the campus and making sure they have a good experience. “This is one of the strengths we have,” he said. “If we get the students and their families on campus, we stand a much better shot of attracting them here.” And Husenits sweats the details, from the vibrant campus photos that line the hallways to what the student tour guides say to the faculty presence at admissions expos.

While IUP needs to participate in college fairs, high school visits, and other off-campus events to maintain visibility, only about 10 percent of those participants enroll at IUP, he said. By comparison, up to 45 percent of participants in on-campus events commit to the university.

Recruitment efforts, both undergraduate and graduate, have included new ways of communicating with prospective students, including social media, and increased investments in advertising and marketing.

On the graduate side, the one-year enrollment decline was less marked: 2.7 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for undergraduates. While Tim Mack, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, said he doesn’t like to lose a single student, he believes enrollment would have been down another 250 graduate students without
innovation on the part of his staff and the departments.

One of the biggest challenges the graduate school faces is online competition, both from for-profit institutions and, now, traditional universities that have entered the market. Graduate coordinators, in particular, responded to that challenge by adding programs at locations throughout the state: Nursing, Curriculum and Instruction, and Employment and Labor Relations at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg; Health Services Administration with a January start date at the Northpointe campus; a daytime cohort of Counselor Education in Monroeville; a new Safety Sciences PhD program with a mix of online and on-campus classes; and offshore programs, including the MBA in Bangalore, India.

Many of the new programs are blended, Mack explained, “so they’re getting a significant portion of it online but also have the social interaction and face-to-face experience of being able to see and interact with an instructor. We think the quality of education they’re going to get from that is going to be better than if it were fully online.”

Sutton Scholars classroom

Last year, the university embarked on a major recruitment initiative, the Sutton Scholars program, which awards $2,000 scholarships, plus additional funding for a summer academy, shown here. —Keith Boyer

According to Mack, the graduate school is already feeling the effects of the widespread undergraduate enrollment decline. He received some help over the summer when President Michael Driscoll, in conjunction with the Foundation for IUP, provided funding for 15 need-based scholarships of $1,000 each. Within two hours, the scholarships were gone, Mack said. “I could have distributed 50. Easily.” He also received funding for nearly 70 mini graduate assistantships, offering a $1,000 stipend and $2,000 tuition waiver in exchange for eight hours of work a week.

While the graduate school attracts a number of students from abroad, the university as a whole aims to do more to recruit internationally. Other populations of potential growth include minority groups, veterans, nontraditional students, and high school students who attend through the Dual Enrollment program.

When Kristen Miller O’Hara ’99 became director of Adult and Continuing Education a year ago, IUP had contracts with 20 high schools for dual enrollment. That number now stands at 32, and she expects to have more than 50 by June. Truly ambitious students, she said, can complete two semesters of college before graduating from high school. “Our hope is that they will matriculate eventually.”

Pennsylvania’s Only Growth

Shawn Jones M’97 has long been working with minority recruitment, and last year, he was joined on the admissions staff by Irvin Rivera, who was hired to focus on the recruitment of Latinos, the only growing population in the state. In the past, attracting Latinos has been a challenge, Husenits said: “It’s more than just recruiting students; you need to recruit their families.”

Recruiting from Within: Anthropology professor Victor Garcia has built on a community connection by recruiting Latino students from Chester County to IUP.

For the last decade, anthropology professor Victor Garcia has been doing exactly that. While conducting research in southern Chester County, he has made it a side task to educate immigrant families from Mexico—a significant part of the mushroom industry work force in the area—about the importance of higher education and, in effect, draw students to IUP. He estimates he has recruited 7 to 10 students a year.

Irvin Rivera

Irvin Rivera, shown at an event in King of Prussia, joined the admissions staff last year to focus on recruiting Latinos.

Named IUP’s Distinguished University Professor last spring, Garcia said southern Chester County is an ideal market because immigrant families have a strong work ethic and don’t face the social issues common in urban areas. “You’re not going to have rapid gang activity or an underground economy based on drugs and other criminal pursuits,” he said.

Once the students arrive on campus, Garcia is active in promoting their success. He runs Caring about Latino Student Achievement, a program that focuses on retaining minority students and preparing them for graduate school.

A strong Latino presence on campus and interest in the culture also will help the students “to feel at home and stay,” he said. The university’s first Latino reception, with all five Latino student organizations present, was held in September. Garcia sees that kind of collaboration, along with Rivera’s arrival in admissions, as part of a pivotal moment on campus.

“I haven’t seen this kind of synergy directed at this population since I arrived here 23 years ago,” he said. “This is what it’s going to take.”

Retention: Minding the Back Door

The overall retention rate for students who started at IUP in fall 2011 and returned in fall 2012 is a rather healthy 75 percent, compared to a national rate of about 70 percent, as reported by the Consortium for Retention Data Exchange at the University of Oklahoma.

While the university has always made retention a priority, it’s now working toward what Timothy Moerland, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, calls a “more coordinated, all-hands effort.”

Triceratops skull replica in the Northern Suites

A triceratops skull replica is on display in the third-floor lobby of the Northern Suites, reflecting the building’s science theme.

When students put their education on hold, it tends to be because of finances or a range of personal factors, such as family responsibilities, jobs and other opportunities, or motivation issues. “It’s a very complex equation,” Moerland said. “What that means in practice is there’s no one solution. Things we do have to be as broadly applicable as possible.”

One such effort was an attempt over the summer, led by the associate and assistant deans, to contact all of the students not yet registered for the fall semester to see if the university could assist in their return. IUP is also revamping summer and winter course offerings to ensure the availability of classes that will keep students progressing toward graduation.

“What we don’t want to happen is a student to say, ‘I can’t make sufficient progress in my degree this spring, so I’ll just stop out for a semester,” Moerland said. “Once that happens, that just increases the likelihood that the stop-out becomes permanent.”

The university is also working to expand programs that connect students—particularly those who are at risk academically, changing major or campus, or veterans—with the academic and other support services they need.

The Living-Learning Experience

One of IUP’s most extensive retention-focused initiatives was the establishment of the living-learning communities as the suite-style residence halls took shape from 2007 to 2010. The nearly 30 community options allow students to group themselves with others who share similar majors and interests and take part in activities designed just for them, though open to all.

“We recognize that for students to do well, it’s easier if they’re comfortable and involved with folks with similar experiences,” said Michael Lemasters, executive director of the Office of Housing, Residential Living, and Dining.

Resource room in the Northern Suites

Resource rooms in the residence halls provide major-specific equipment and space for studying.

The residence halls themselves also promote academics, both in their location and décor. Most are a stone’s throw from the primary academic buildings of their community members, providing easy access to the faculty, labs, and other resources. And as one walks inside the residence halls, the community themes are evident—from the life-sized replica of a triceratops skull and TVs tuned to the campus energy channel in the Northern Suites to Stephenson Hall’s business-style boardroom to the baby grand piano in Putt.

It’s the environmental theory, said Jack Makara D’12, assistant director for Assessment and Academic Initiatives in the housing office. “The physical markers help to emphasize and create a connection to the community’s overarching theme.”
In fall 2012, the average first-semester GPA for new freshmen living on campus was 2.70, compared to 2.48 for their off-campus counterparts. The second-year retention rate for that same group was about 75 percent for on-campus students, almost 10 percent higher than for those living off campus.

Students who have historically struggled with retention are undeclared majors. Six years ago, the university piloted a living-learning program targeting undeclared majors in the colleges of Fine Arts and Health and Human Services. Called Crimson Connections, the program offered linked courses—an English composition class and a career-exploration class—that the students took as a cohort, or group, creating a learning community in themselves.

“It allowed students who really didn’t have any other academic connection to join with other students in a similar seeking capacity and create a connection,” said Michele Norwood M’92, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Norwood created the program with Jackie Beck, now retired as director of Academic Planning and Assessment in Health and Human Services.

Similar programs have since been established for undeclared majors in the Eberly College of Business and Informational Technology and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, part of an ongoing effort to increase living-learning opportunities.

“We like to say we’re proud of our bricks and mortar,” Makara said, “but we’re more proud of what happens inside.”

More from the Fall-Winter 2013 Issue of IUP Magazine

Dr. Rock

Dr. Rock

Mike Barnett came to IUP to grow musically. Twenty years later, the CU-Boulder faculty member has enlisted the help of an IUP mentor on his latest project—a fusion of metal, rock, and jazz

The Spirit of Us

The Spirit of Us

University athletics benefit more than student-athletes; they build school spirit and a sense of community. Now, the university has a bold new symbol to showcase that pride

Message from the President

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor | In Brief

Homecoming, 80 Years Later

As thousands of alumni returned to campus in October to celebrate Homecoming 2013, they continued a tradition that has spanned eight decades

Taking It in Stride

Junior Caitlin McCabe, a member of the IUP Color Guard, starts to get her gear together for the IUP Marching Band: her uniform, her flag—and her prosthetic leg


Women are no longer outsiders in distance running, even in races beyond 100 miles, due in part to the trailblazing Marcy Schwam