California University of Pennsylvania president pledges renewed focus

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Facing a budget deficit and projected 9 percent enrollment loss this fall, California University of Pennsylvania has moved to shore up its finances and has eliminated about $200 in fees to win back students.

Interim Cal U president Geraldine Jones on Tuesday revealed to a campus gathering that the university this summer faced a deficit initially expected to reach almost $12 million by the end of the upcoming school year. It has since pared that sum by two-thirds through spending cuts.

The deficit for 2012-13 currently stands at $4.2 million, she said. Cal U's operating budget is about $120 million.

"We did not get here overnight, and we will not be able to remedy this financial situation overnight," Ms. Jones told the school's faculty and staff convocation, a meeting held this year in the school's new $59 million convocation center.

Her remarks before an audience of several hundred on the second day of fall classes marked her first convocation speech since assuming the presidency in May after Cal U's long-term president, Angelo Armenti Jr., was fired by the State System of Higher Education.


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Previously the provost, Ms. Jones pledged that Cal U would focus on its core mission of educating students, an apparent nod to faculty complaints that spending under her predecessor had escalated too much and that undue emphasis was given to nonacademic pursuits.

She also said Cal U is instituting what she termed "financial solvency principles" and said efforts are continuing to find savings in current and future budgets.

And she pledged an era of open communication, saying Cal U's ability to fully realize its potential as a great public university rests on the shoulders of every employee.

"I will work hard not to disappoint," Ms. Jones said, winning applause and a standing ovation during her appearance.

Mr. Armenti oversaw a period of rapid enrollment growth and academic gains, and is credited with pursuing construction projects that transformed the campus.

But he sometimes sparred with faculty, some of whom accused the former president of retaliating against those who disagreed or spoke against him or his ideas and policies.

Michael Slavin, chair of Cal U's theater department and head of the campus chapter of the faculty union, told the convocation that Ms. Jones "will not be given the traditional 100-day honeymoon" but also said employees stood ready to help.

He urged her, in considering employee input, to "honor what they say without any retaliation."

The school's enrollment figures will not be finalized until next month. But based on initial credit hour projections, the school anticipates to have the equivalent of 7,449 full-time students, 749 less than last year's 8,198, Ms. Jones said.

Officials said the enrollment decline contributed to this year's projected budget deficit.

Officials said Ms. Jones opted in the face of a bad recruiting year to maintain admission standards, rather than accept less academically prepared students to drive up enrollment totals. Due in part to declining high school graduation rates, other State System schools in Western Pennsylvania have said they expect declines, although not as severe.

During the last academic year, State System comparative data showed that Cal U's overall cost of attendance -- $19,196 for tuition, fees, room and board -- was above the $16,518 system average and the highest of the 14 system schools.

In an unusual move, Cal U this summer cut about $200 in fees. It announced elimination of a $74 student leadership fee; a $40, or 8 percent, cut in the student association fee; and said certain tiers of parking would see a $100, or 30 percent, fee reduction.

Even with a 3 percent tuition increase approved by the State System for 2012-13 and a total $28 increase in academic support and technology fees, Ms. Jones said in a note to campus in July that many Cal U students would see their costs increase by only $1 per semester over what they paid in 2011-12.

"I hope that students and their families will take these figures into account as they plan for the fall semester," she wrote. "Cal U is working hard to control costs."

As of July 31, the university faced an $11.8 million deficit, Ms. Jones said. It reduced that through various budget savings including staff vacancies and manager furloughs, cuts in athletic expenditures, a reduction in the school's Vulcan Flyer bus service, a lease reduction at its Southpointe Center and other spending curbs.

education - neigh_washington

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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