Opening of the Academic Year, 2017–18

  • August 25, 2017

  • My fellow citizens of IUP, I stand before you and say with confidence that the state of the university is strong.

    (Sorry, but I felt some sort of urge to speak with appropriate presidential gravitas and dignity.)

    I suppose some of you might view our current position as “do or die.” I beg to differ. No question, we must be shrewd as we move forward to the future we envision. We must do, but we will do that doing from a position of great strength and opportunity.

    Say carpe diem or whatever you want. We are at a critical yet very positive turning point. To not act with urgency would result in missed opportunities.

    With strength, we are in control of our future, thanks to the incredible discipline we have shown as we’ve worked together in the last several years. We are in a position that many envy.

    Because of our strengths and the challenges and opportunities ahead, this is our year, the year IUP lifts off and soars.

    Let’s talk about dollars and cents.

    Chart comparing spending and enrollment at PASSHE universities

    Some of you have seen this chart. It’s part of the State System Strategic Review report. It shows changes in student full-time enrollment, spending per student full-time enrollment, and total spending. The spending bars reflect adjustment for inflation. In a key sense, large changes are not a good thing.

    Together, we have worked hard to provide high-quality education to our students and stay in control of our bottom line. While facing the incredibly competitive market of western Pennsylvania, we have been the consistent strong performer. This slide reflects 2009 through 2015, and we actually are doing better today than this chart shows.

    So, why is IUP’s bar on that chart smaller and tighter than the others? Why are we in good shape? Easy answer. We do things the IUP Way. Our brand of banding together to identify and solve problems works. It’s not an easy thing to do, but, together, we’ve mastered it.

    The IUP Way of doing things led to our creating the vision and strategic plan. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves along the way, and we’re working together to get things done. Now, we’re going to use the IUP Way to take advantage of what lies ahead.

    Here are some highlights.

    The new freshman class is solid. We’ll have more freshmen than we had a year ago, and we are doing ever more outreach for the students we want to have at IUP. We’ve added significant new programs to attract students to IUP—the kinds of programs that they want and that will benefit the future of our world.

    And, it’s important to remember we’re doing this in the context of Pennsylvania and the State System of Higher Education. The state budget is still in an incredibly challenged place.

    We’re grateful for the governor’s and legislature’s reinvestment in the State System and IUP, but we need to be realistic. We won’t see some massive infusion of appropriation that will allow us to return to those good old days. We must remain vigilant and continue to effectively manage our resources.

    You might think the state of some of our sister institutions, the system’s change in leadership, and the suggested changes identified in the system review create challenges for us.

    But, because of our current position of strength and our demonstrated ability to effectively steer our own course, I think we are in an advantageous position, especially given the greater flexibility we have been granted by the Board of Governors. I am confident that we can continue to benefit from being part of the State System while determining our own direction.

    I’ve talked about shameless bragging for a couple of years, and despite all that you are doing to make IUP great, the world doesn’t yet know it. I’m going to come back to that in a moment.

    It’s true: Total enrollment is going to be down a bit this fall, even as the freshman class grows, but that’s a challenge that we know how to tackle. The last of those record-breaking classes has graduated, which is a reason enrollment has dropped, but that’s not the only reason. We are losing too many students part way through their time here.

    Last year, I talked often about the fact that six in 10 freshmen who started at the Punxsutawney campus would be gone after their second year.

    That wasn’t good enough, and we took bold action to ensure those students had a better chance to succeed by redirecting those who would have been at Punxsutawney to the Indiana campus. The experiment is in process. I thank those who stepped up to make that change occur.

    I compare that with students who start at the Indiana campus. Another sad fact regarding persistence: four of 10 of those students will be gone after their second year. That’s not good enough, either.

    Of the 2,500 or so freshmen we will see this fall, about 700 of them will not be back next fall.

    Before you tell me these students aren’t good enough to be here, note these things. The data shows we are losing many qualified students. Of the students who don’t return to IUP, about half have a college GPA higher than 2.0. We’re clearly not doing enough to make this the welcoming home those students need and deserve.

    And, I remind you that it is part of our mission and values to help the children of southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond find the enrichment in life that higher education brings. Nearly 30 percent of our students are the first in their families to go to college. We owe them better wayfinding through the complexities of this university.

    We also fall below the mark when we compare ourselves to peer universities.

    Many of you currently are doing great things to help our students persist, succeed, and graduate. But, despite all that work, our efforts are still fragmented by college, departmental, and divisional lines. We don’t always work together nor use all the data available to focus on the techniques that have the biggest impact.

    We must redouble our efforts to do better by our students. It makes financial sense. After all, it’s less expensive to keep a student than to recruit a new one. More important, it is the right thing to do.

    I am setting a new goal for our retention rate. Within five years, by 2022, I want to see our first-to-second-year retention rate improve from 72 percent to 80 percent. The students in that class will graduate in 2025, when we celebrate IUP’s 150-year anniversary. Four other State System schools are achieving this rate now. So can we.

    Before I go on, I want to emphasize that I don’t expect any of you to work yourselves to death. Rather, I want everyone to work more efficiently and collaboratively to focus our efforts on this problem, using techniques that have been proven by data to make a real difference. I expect everyone—from president to professor, from coach to custodian—to take a leading role in getting students to IUP, ensuring they have a good experience, and celebrating with them as they depart with a diploma in hand and join our alumni community.

    With this renewed focus on student success, we are taking a number of important steps.

    First, I have empowered the provost to move ahead with all due speed to establish the University College, to provide an appropriate home for students who have not yet declared majors. There, we will duplicate the same great welcome, advising, and support they receive once they land in a college.

    Second, we are going to complete work on the SUCCESS Plan. We think that in the next few years, we will settle on an undergraduate population of about 10,000 or so hard-working, motivated students. We are working on the exact mix of students we want to see, and then we’re going for it.

    We also are zeroing in on a target number of graduate students. I believe we are able to expand our programs, making our graduate experience available to more people than ever. I also see room to serve more adult learners. In fact, the State System review notes that Pennsylvania does a woefully inadequate job of serving adult learners, and I have no doubt other student markets need what IUP has to offer.

    Third, I have approved the provost’s request to begin hiring tenure-track faculty and support staff in areas that are demonstrably responsive to university mission, strategy, student needs, and accountability. We are not lifting the hiring freeze, and we must maintain our financial discipline. But, we do need to make targeted hires in areas that are critical to our future.

    Fourth, I am appointing Dr. Patti McCarthy as vice president for Enrollment Management, removing the interim from her title. I am charging her with redefining the division’s role as lead partner with the entire university community to ensure students succeed from admission to graduation.

    I have asked her to work in particular with the vice presidents of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, leading a university-wide team to ensure we’re doing everything we can to hit the targets and do right by our students. You will hear a lot more about this in the weeks ahead.

    Now, back to that part about shameless bragging. To make sure everyone knows about this wonderful university, I am creating a new marketing and communications division. Current staff from Enrollment Management and Communications and University Advancement will be moved into one unit. I will hire a chief marketing officer, who will report directly to me and sit on president’s cabinet.

    I expect this unit to concentrate on priority needs and envision that it could be structured similarly to our IT Services area, caring for the big picture—in this case the reputation and overall image of the university—while also effectively serving the needs of admissions operations, advancement, the colleges and departments, and other units.

    With Bill Speidel’s retirement, we will recruit a new vice president for University Advancement, with a search committee appointed and starting their work by the end of September. Thank you, Bill, for your tireless work on behalf of IUP. We will miss you.

    On September 11, Khatmeh Osseiran-Hanna will join us as interim vice president for University Advancement. She comes to us from The Registry. Her executive positions in advancement have included work at the City University of New York College of Staten Island and New Jersey Institute of Technology.

    To help fund the marketing and communications operation, I am eliminating the open associate vice president positions in University Advancement and Enrollment Management.

    So, implementing these changes feels a bit like snapping some of the last pieces into the puzzle. Last year, I likened our work to a big family puzzle when I talked to you about the concept of the IUP Way. Working together to make a better tomorrow through our students, finding innovative ways to create good change and have an impact on this world we share—that’s the IUP Way. If we don’t take advantage of our good position and if we don’t face up to the challenges that could easily drag us down, then we will miss the opportunity to reach our shared vision.

    Whew! I know I have covered a lot, and you may need a moment to absorb it all. But, I must speak to one more thing.

    In all that we do, we will infuse our values of diversity and inclusion. The President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion has been hard at it. I want you to know that I’ve seen the first draft of their action-oriented recommendations. You’ll have the opportunity to view a report this fall.

    In the wake of Charlottesville’s tragic events, we must be vigilant. Everyone in our university community must not only feel welcome but also must be treated with respect and dignity. We will honor and defend the rights enshrined in our Constitution, including the right of free speech, but we will also continue the sacred task of teaching our students, and each other, that incivility and hate, prejudice and bigotry, and discrimination and racism are the foundation of neither our society nor the educated citizen.

    In the weeks to come, you can expect to see more resources to help you in this work.

    In all the things I’ve mentioned today, we know what we need to do. We have the ability to do it. We are without a doubt the best people to do it.

    Working together, we are ready.

    IUP, let’s get doing.