Cal U freezes room and board for 2013-14, nominates new board

Leaders focus on keeping fees, debt low

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After losing more than 9 percent of its enrollment last year, California University of Pennsylvania took another step Wednesday night to woo back some of those students, announcing a freeze in room and board rates for 2013-2014.

The decision was outlined during a meeting of Cal U's council of trustees, which also nominated a new slate of board officers including chairman and heard assurances that afive-year $70 million capital plan through 2018 that includes a $34 million science building will not add to the university's construction debt.

The room and board freeze was announced by acting president Geraldine Jones, who in August told a faculty and staff convocation that the school had eliminated about $200 in other fees charged to students beyond tuition.

"Due to this continuing effort to keep fees as low as possible, we will not be bringing to the trustees a recommendation for an increase," she said.

Room rates are set by the university-affiliated Student Association Inc. and also were frozen in 2012-13 at levels including $7,100 a year for double accommodations, among the most common housing options.

The decision to freeze board rates was the first time in at least two decades that has happened, officials said. As a result of the decision, the 14-meal-per-week plan -- among the most popular options -- will remain at $3,430 per year.

Wednesday night's two-hour meeting was the first since Gov. Tom Corbett confirmed last month that he would not renominate to another term board chairman Robert Irey, who had questioned a decision by the State System of Higher Education last May to fire longtime president Angelo Armenti Jr. without explanation amid campus complaints about rising debt and spending practices.

The individual nominated for chair Wednesday night was vice chair Lawrence Maggi, a Washington County commissioner who ran Wednesday night's meeting in Mr. Irey's absence. Trustee Annette Ganassi was nominated as vice chair, and student member Michael Crosen was nominated for secretary. The election will take place at the council's June meeting.

Ms. Jones told the board that efforts continue to plug a projected university budget deficit that totaled $12 million last summer but has since shrunk to $2.5 million. She said $1 million within the budget has been shifted to the academic side of campus operations, noting a pledge she earlier made to stress academics.

She said a top priority will be ensuring that spending does not outstrip income.

It is "perhaps an easy concept but not one we have followed well at Cal U," she said.

Such concern was evident in a question by trustee Robert Miner, who wanted to know if the $70 million capital plan would add to the university's debt load of roughly $100 million. When Robert Thorn, vice president of administration and finance, said no, Mr. Miner replied: "That's all I needed to hear."

Also Wednesday night, two members of the faculty including Michael Slavin, campus faculty union president, urged improvements in shared governance. The trustees also endorsed the idea that the State System appoint Ms. Jones interim president, citing her strong performance.

education - region - neigh_washington

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


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