Nothing will be different for students now enrolled when the fall semester starts Aug. 28. But changes to majors and programs for prospective students are on the way.
When speaking about changes coming to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, its president, H. Fred Walker, will often liken the institution to a grocery store.
“This is like refreshing the inventory,” he said in an interview in late July. “When programs get stale, they need to be refreshed or replaced.”
Walker said that though people do not often associate higher education institutions with change, it is a “healthy” part of any operation.
And change is on the way.
The fall semester starts Aug. 28, but announcements about the university’s future could come as early as this week, with more being made throughout the semester.
“We will release what we’ve been hearing from all of our constituent groups,” Walker said, referencing a review process, started in January, that looked into university operations, finances and academic programs.
Those now enrolled need not be concerned. Their programs will go on uninterrupted.
“They will not be delayed in terms of their graduation,” Walker said. “And they will not need to go to another school to finish degrees.”
But in two years, it is likely that prospective students will not have the same programs to choose from that are now available. The idea is to have future programming that is more closely aligned with students’ interests and the economy.
“We are going to focus on putting people into the economy,” Walker said. “That is our mission as a public regional comprehensive university.”
Walker would not disclose which academic majors and programs are on the chopping block, or what new programs are coming to the university, but he identified four new areas that the university will prioritize going forward: arts and digital entertainment; business, applied science and professional programming; education, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math; and social and mental health services.
Like many universities nationwide, Edinboro faces decreasing enrollment and tuition dollars, changing demographics, increasing student debt, a minority of students graduating in four years, and other challenges that need to be addressed so the university remains a viable option for students seeking a higher education degree.
Already the university has taken steps to streamline its operations, including restructuring at the administrative level.
Walker said the university has found ways to do its work without filling some vacant management positions. It has also made marketing part of its enrollment management. And the university has sought to combine student affairs and academic affairs, which Walker said are inseparable.
Further changes have yet to be announced. In March, Walker raised the possibility of job cuts. Asked about it recently, Walker would not say if the university is going to eliminate positions.
“We have got to be smart about what we’re doing,” he said. “At the end of the day, our revenues have to balance with our expenses.”
But Walker has taken issue with characterizations that the university is in dire financial trouble. He said the institution has been proactive in strategizing for the future, even before a report, released in mid-July, made recommendations to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on how to help ensure the survival of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities.
“We unfairly got mapped into a group of struggling universities,” Walker said. “We’ve got better than $30 million in reserves to invest in some strategic initiatives.”
The report, conducted by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, based in Colorado, recommended against closing or merging schools, and was critical of state system governance, funding, oversight and university support.
Walker said nothing in the report surprised him.
“They identified a very consistent set of issues that affects everybody across the university system,” he said.
A comprehensive analysis of Edinboro’s program offerings is ongoing, and is expected to be finished completed near the end August, Walker said.
“We’ve got a find a way to reinvent a lot of what we’re doing,” he said.
Nico Salvatori can be reached at 870-1714 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNsalvatori.