A year of belt-tightening and rethinking priorities is paying dividends for California University of Pennsylvania, the school's interim president Geraldine Jones said Thursday.
A year after speaking at her first faculty and staff convocation as president, Ms. Jones took the stage Thursday for the same event and announced that Cal U accomplished something it had not for five years: It managed to balance its budget.
In fact, the state-owned university whose finances have been troubled of late predicts it will end 2012-13 with a surplus but won't know the size until the books are officially closed, officials said.
Make no mistake, she told the crowd gathered in an auditorium inside Cal U's Steele Hall, the university still faces challenges.
Not the least is filling seats.
Cal U projects as of the first week of classes that its enrollment will be down again this fall, but by about 3.5 percent -- a decline less severe than last year's loss that topped 9 percent and contributed to a projected deficit that at one point stood at $11.8 million on a budget of about $120 million.
And while transfer enrollment is expected to be off by 5 percent, the university projects its freshman class will be 26 percent larger.
"It will take us several years to overcome [last year's] dip," she told the audience that roundly applauded her remarks. "But we have made excellent progress in attracting students. This is one of the very promising signs that we are on our way to stabilizing the university's enrollment."
Cal U estimates its enrollment at 8,276 this fall, down from 8,581 last year and a peak of 9,483 in 2011.
She said the administration has rescinded a notice of planned faculty layoffs and instead will review its workforce needs to make sure resources match student demand.
Ms. Jones did not rule out non-academic job cuts but said any such reductions would be done as a last resort.
Ms. Jones reiterated her pledge from a year ago to focus on Cal U's mission of academics, stabilize enrollment and restore financial stability.
"For too many years, wishful thinking has taken the place of sound fiscal management at Cal U," Ms. Jones said.
And, in response to a reporter's question, she said for the first time that if offered permanent presidency by the State System of Higher Education, she would be interested in the job.
"If you would have asked me that question last year, I would not have been able to answer," she said. "Asking me that question today, I would say now, yes, I would be interested."
But she said that is a decision for the State System of Higher Education, which has not begun the search.
Michael Slavin, head of the faculty union and chair of Cal U's theater and dance department, spoke prior to Ms. Jones' remarks Thursday, urging her to make good on a promise a year ago to return the university's focus to educating students.
Mr. Slavin said her actions will be the ultimate measure but reacting to her remarks Thursday, he said, "She hit a home run."
He praised a decision announced earlier this week to sever Cal U's contract with VenueWorks, a professional firm hired to manage the $59 million convocation center.
Ms. Jones, the school's former provost, was named interim president after former Cal U president Angelo Armenti Jr. was fired by the system in May 2012. His dismissal came without explanation, but at a time when questions were being raised about the school's finances.
Cal U officials said Thursday that over five years they had used $5.4 million in reserves to shore up the university budget.
Cal U began chipping away at its deficit last summer with a variety of cuts, among them scaling back a lease at its Southpointe Center, reducing frequency of its Vulcan shuttle service, manager furloughs, leaving staff positions vacant and reductions in marketing, travel, athletic and discretionary spending.
First Published August 29, 2013 1:30 PM