Good morning.

Thank you, Provost Luetkehans.

Welcome to a new year at IUP. I hope you have had an enjoyable summer and that you are ready to begin this new semester.

I’m excited to see all of you. This will be the first time in three years, really, that we are beginning the school year without some form of COVID restrictions or a large number of employees working remotely. We are now back to an environment that looks and feels familiar, and I am thankful for that. It’s great to see you.

Right up front, and before you hear from some other IUP leaders, and before Dr. Piper engages in whatever shenanigans he has planned, I want to tell you my wish for today.

My wish is that when you leave here, you feel inspired. You feel confident and prepared. You feel hopeful. And you feel proud. The work you do here is important, and how we go about it sets the tone for our entire university community.

It’s in the service to others that we will arrive at a future where IUP leads the pack. We must use student-centeredness as our north star and let it guide us in all we do, and I hope that you feel inspired to do this.

I want to share with you some business updates that are relevant to our work.

Early last month, the Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf approved the state budget for the fiscal year. It includes a dramatic increase in funding for the State System of $75 million above last year.

Specifically, the ongoing base appropriations for the State System increased from $477.5 million to $552.5 million. That 15.7 percent increase sets the base for future annual appropriations.

But wait, there’s more.

The State System also received $125 million of one-time funds from the commonwealth’s COVID relief funding.

On July 22, the Board of Governors finalized the allocation of funds to the universities. Our share of the base is about $56.9 million, almost $8 million more than we had projected under the new appropriation allocation formula. IUP also received about $12.3 million from the one-time funding.

Before this year’s historic investment, Pennsylvania’s support for public higher education was one of the lowest in the country. While there is still plenty of room to grow, it’s really, really nice to be out of the basement.

The investment came with broad bipartisan support, a strong vote of confidence in universities like IUP. It is also a recognition of the hard, and sometimes painful, work we have all done to reduce costs and increase affordability for our students. Thanks are due to a broad group of advocates, including the Board of Governors, the Councils of Trustees, Chancellor Greenstein, university leadership, union leadership, and all of you. I am thankful in particular for the strong support from our state legislative delegation, including Senator Joe Pittman and Representatives Jim Struzzi and Brian Smith.

This funding doesn’t erase our financial challenges. But it sure helps. It also gives us a bit more time to be creative in addressing them. We are, and will be, working with the Council of Trustees and the University Budget Advisory Committee to find the best use for the resources.

Two years ago, I sounded the alarm and said that we must fundamentally change our financial operations because draining our reserves to cover our expenses would leave IUP insolvent—meaning we would be unable to pay our bills—within four years.

Thanks to Vice President Debra Fitzsimmons, her staff, and so many of you who have put your oar in the water and helped us row together, we are now more than two-thirds of the way to getting on better footing. Right now, the team is working on the numbers we need for our annual Comprehensive Planning Process report, and once our fall enrollment is nailed down, we’ll have more details to discuss.

I’m happy to tell you that I am committed to no more retrenchments or furloughs this year. While we may not refill every position that becomes vacant through attrition, we will continue to provide opportunities for professional development and will invest by filling a few key positions. These decisions will be made prudently.

While reining in spending is part of balancing the budget, the corresponding action is to increase revenue. In today’s economy, raising the cost of attendance would be understandable, but not student-centered. Yet, many of our competitors have done it.

Instead, we have lowered tuition by almost 20 percent for in-state undergraduate students while continuing to freeze room and board costs and basic fees. Starting this semester, the total cost of attendance for in-state undergraduate students living on campus is only about $100 more than it was in 2016.

We face a declining state population, especially in younger age groups, increased competition for students, and a society where some people have lost faith in the value of a college degree. That means recruiting students is more challenging than ever. But the focus of our recruiting work needs to be on offering relevant and challenging educational experiences for all our students, funding more scholarships, and marketing our great university to diverse populations, showing what they can gain by coming to IUP.

We are projecting our fall enrollment to come in somewhere between 8,800 and 8,900 students, which is a slight drop from last year. But don’t be dismayed. Our incoming freshman class is larger than last year’s, and the number of students registered full-time has gone up, as has the persistence rate of upper-division students. Good stuff.

We must help more students stay and finish. Our first- to second-year retention rate is around 70 percent, which means that roughly 30 percent of our first-year students don’t come back.

Thirty percent.

The list of reasons we lose 30 percent of our first-year students is a long one, from mental health issues and financial strains to academic struggles and feeling homesick. This is challenging work that requires thinking and acting holistically to best serve our students’ needs.

Our retention rate is not one person’s fault. You are all working as hard as you can to help our students be successful and your work matters. But no one person can help every student overcome every challenge they face. Rather, we need to transform how we support all of our students, cutting across division and unit boundaries and getting the right expertise in the right places for the biggest impact.

That’s why IUP’s strategic plan talks about being a student-centered university and not about being a university filled with student-centered individuals. That’s why at the end of last academic year, we wrapped up the work of many student success task forces and committees. Each was doing great—and sometimes overlapping and really exhausting—work, but we were missing the impact we all seek.

That’s why I asked the University Planning Council to create a streamlined committee structure—building on and implementing suggestions from NEXTGEN, the Strategic Enrollment Plan, and your other great work—so that we could accelerate our progress on student-centeredness and success.

After a lot of thoughtful consideration, the UPC told me that I wasn’t thinking big enough and then gave me a great proposal.

The proposal goes to the heart of transforming us into the student-centered university, the kind we must become, without expecting each of us to solve every problem for every student, undergraduate and graduate, resident and commuter, and on and on.

We cannot spread ourselves thin trying to solve all the problems only to end up exhausted with little accomplished. We must find ways we all can help the cause of student-centeredness by excelling in the areas in which we are best suited.  

Think about baseball. The Pirates won last night, so I can say that. Not everyone can be the pitcher, but everyone can play a role in keeping the other team from scoring. Not everyone can hit home runs, but when we get our turn at bat, we all can find ways to get on base. It’s a matter of everyone doing what we can to help the team, putting the team’s success front and center.

The UPC has proposed a transformed and amped-up Student Success Center that does that for our students.

In concept, the center would be staffed with new or reassigned personnel who have expertise in student success. It would have two proactive components: academic and advocacy.

The academic part would guide students toward resources using the rest of us as early-warning sources. For example, if a student gets a poor grade on their first paper, their professor could alert the Student Success Center, which would connect the student to the Writing Center for assistance. A Student Success Center modeled like this helps keep students from falling behind.

The advocacy portion would have a concierge approach. Personnel would be a single point of contact for students and families and would follow up with students to ensure they have received the help they need and then stay with them as they progress.

This is an excellent way to use our time, talent, and resources to benefit our students. And that’s why we are here.

In the IUP libraries, many of the spaces have been restructured to better meet the needs of our students, and some student-facing offices, including the Writing Center and the Career and Professional Development Center, have been moved into the library, letting our students find help in one spot. The University College, already living in the library, has broadened its work to help all students, not just the ones who are exploring their academic options. There is great synergy between library leadership and administration, faculty, and staff. Instead of fighting against change, they asked “how can we help?”

We must all rise to the challenge to meet all of our students’ needs, and a new Student Success Center, the restructuring of the library, and the broadened mission of the University College show the way.

I freely admit that, despite all the reading and research I’ve been doing about student-centered universities, I don’t know how to design the perfect one. Neither does the UPC. We need all of you to help. I will soon be appointing one university-wide task force to design a world-class Student Success Center for IUP. That group will work with all of you to create a plan by the end of the fall semester, allowing implementation to start in the spring. If you are interested in serving, please let Scott Moore, Paula Stossel, or me know. We need everyone’s input.

Please know that a lot of great, student-centered work is already happening. I want to briefly mention two examples.

Last weekend, first-year students started moving into our residence halls. With help from many of you, about 1,500 students and their families had a great experience. The Office of Housing and Residence Life changed the check-in process for students who live on campus. The students arrived at the KCAC to find staff from housing, along with representatives from dining, health service, student billing, financial aid, the University College, the Office of Alumni Affairs, the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, helpful volunteers, and more ready to help them. Questions were answered without having to run all over campus, and before the stressful work of parking and unloading the car, or the U-Haul, or whatever they brought with them. The Department of Public Safety, ROTC, and our facilities and custodial staff made that last part easier, too.

We are working so that students feel like IUP is home. We took a walking tour with some of our students and learned that many minority groups, when they looked at the campus, felt unrepresented.

We have acted on this. We want students from all walks of life to know they are welcome at IUP and their needs will be cared for. Outside the front doors of Jane Leonard Hall, you can see the newly painted rainbow sidewalk. Outside the Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement, you can see the pride flag flying above. We have updated signage across campus to make all-gender restrooms easier to find. We renovated the main lobby in Clark Hall so that students find it more welcoming and friendlier, with new artwork and better informational displays. We will continue working with all of you to make sure all students find a home at IUP.

We’re beginning our 147th academic year since we first opened our doors in 1875. As we approach our sesquicentennial in 2025, our Division of University Advancement is planning the next comprehensive campaign using that anniversary as the inspiration.

The last campaign ended with a record-breaking $81+ million in gifts from our alumni and friends, and while it may seem counterintuitive to begin another campaign, recent activity tells us it will be a continuation of the momentum we have going.

Since the Imagine Unlimited campaign closed, IUP has continued to receive gifts that leave us in awe. In the fiscal year that just ended, we were gifted roughly $19 million by friends and family who believe in the work that we do and want to be a part of it. We also received $2.75 million from the state and federal governments to support the new culinary arts facility in Punxsutawney.

University Advancement and Academic Affairs have also been at the forefront of expanding our relations with the local community, and one of those bridges we’ve built is particularly exciting because of the far-reaching effects it could have.

IUP and Indiana Regional Medical Center are finding ways to work together, exemplified by our first IRMC at IUP Day in April. These efforts will advance our understanding of how to keep communities, especially rural communities, healthy. It’s a natural move for a university and a hospital system, and you can look forward to more exciting news about IUP’s growth in this area.

I have shared a lot with you this morning that shows some of the work we have done that will impact many areas of IUP life. We’re building ahead for our future, one I believe will be bright and prosperous. IUP is facing challenges that will test our resolve. But I see what we have already done, and I know more good things are to come.

I hope you take the inspiration from this work and apply it to yours. Make every day count. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb—remember that’s where the fruit is.

We are in a time of unprecedented change in higher education, unlike anything any of us have seen in our careers. Now is the time to be bold, setting aside cynicism and avoiding apathy. I am excited by the great things many of you are doing to transform IUP. We need—I need, Pennsylvania needs, our country needs, and our future students need—all of you at the table, engaged, participating—rowing together to propel us into the future at flank speed.

Two times a year, I get to do something that reinforces why I am confident about the direction we are headed. It comes at commencement, when I have the privilege of shaking hands with the graduates as they walk across the stage at the KCAC. I see the look of joy on their faces. They are confident and ready to tackle the world’s problems, and it’s because you prepared them to do it.

We have always done good work here, regardless of the challenges of the day, and we will continue to. Our mission is timeless.

Our reputation of expertly preparing our students hasn’t come by accident. It’s very much intentional. That is why I am not cynical. That is why I am engaged with all my heart, my mind, and my energy. That, and knowing that you are the best people for the work, is why I am hopeful and inspired.

That is my choice. Will it be yours?

Thank you.