President Enlists Institutional Envoys at Midsemester Meeting

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during an all-college meeting on Feb. 21)

Good afternoon.

I originally called this meeting today to discuss how we can all be ambassadors and recruiters and keep up our knowledge base about Penn College; how each of us has a responsibility to be an advocate and participate in the advancement of the college.

Since my initial planning for the meeting, the governor has released his budget for the coming year and it became clear I need to address our budget, as well.

I would like to begin with the budget.

I am told often that there continue to be those among us who do not believe we have a budget issue on campus and that, in fact, the administration has “created” this for what, I am not sure.

In January, I was clear about our fiscal opportunities, 298 of you went to the president’s portal and I hope you looked at the budget slides.

Let me review a few:

  • Our debt service will increase $1,451,000.
  • Our health insurance premiums will increase 22 percent (an additional $2.5 million, for a total of $11,597,615).
  • Our enrollment declined 300 students for a loss of more than $1.4 million of revenue that carried through to January 2012 “¦ for another loss of more than $1.3 million “¦ for a total loss of $2.7 million of revenue.

Maybe you will get a better picture in this format by school these numbers are head count:

  • Business and Computer Technologies declined in enrollment 2 percent.
  • Construction and Design Technologies declined by 6 percent.
  • Health Sciences declined by 5 percent.
  • Hospitality increased by 2 percent.
  • Industrial and Engineering Technologies declined by 4 percent.
  • Integrated Studies declined by 12 percent.
  • Natural Resources Management declined by 10 percent.
  • Transportation Technologies declined by 5 percent.

Fewer students impact not only our operations with the schools, but across campus. Fewer students need services as well: library, counseling, Dining Services, The College Store and Residence Life, just to name a few.

With only 13.6 percent of our operating budget resulting from our state appropriation, the balance is a result of our student tuition and fees. This makes our “connection” to enrollment a very palpable one.

Other elements to keep in mind: Half of the people in this room received no salary increase this year.

Last year, we reduced the personnel portion of our budget by $1.9 million in salaries and benefits.

We initiated an early-retirement incentive and we did not replace many of the vacated positions. And, yes, we eliminated positions, as well.

We did announce an additional retirement incentive for this year and tried to address the issues we heard recognizing years of service and providing more time for decision-making. The deadline for that incentive remains March 1.

For those who believe there will be another version next year, hear me clearly: This is it. We are not going to do this again for the foreseeable future. I cannot see the circumstances under which we will do this again.

When the governor made his budget address, we were very fortunate. We received level funding to last year.

That means no cuts were proposed to our budget; the governor even recognized in his message the good work Penn College does. We are very well-positioned compared to other educational entities across the commonwealth who were slated for cuts ranging from 10 to 25 percent.

But that does not mean our budget challenge is over. There are fixed costs we have to deal with: utilities, insurance, bad debt, instructional supplies, technology investments and professional development, just to name a few.

And our enrollment projections for next fall are both good and bad.

For new students, we are expecting an increase of 1.5 percent, but this year’s decline continues to haunt us with returning students we expect more than a 6-percent loss of returning students from a year ago.

So you ask what have we done about this we are in the middle of our budget work right now.

Recall I asked all budget centers to come in at 10 percent less than last year in their base budgets.

I have asked all vice presidents to look at their organizational structures and staffing and make recommended changes and adjustments. To date, 20 open or soon-to-be-open positions will not be filled.

Additional restructuring continues to be examined and position changes or eliminations are likely.

We are also looking at adding students where we can, where we have waiting lists and high-demand programs to balance where there is less demand.

Academic Affairs is also looking at new programs in emerging fields that complement or add to our offerings.

We are offering our summer-school discount not only on developmental education courses but all “general education” courses this summer.

We hope to attract students home for the summer from other colleges and Penn College students wanting to get ahead of their degree requirements.

You have responded to the “cost savings” portal option: More than 25 ideas have been submitted and are being assessed. Some are moving forward with implementation; others are being assessed for return on investment. Please continue to share ideas and suggestions.

Our financial challenge and opportunities are real; if you doubt it, come see me or talk to your dean or vice president.

My daily goal is to identify the resources human and financial for you all to continue to provide the education and related services that continue to distinguish a Penn College education.

Every decision is being evaluated, we are saying “No” to things that, five years ago, we would have said “Yes” to because we need to be sure our funds are put to the best possible use.

I have examples to share with you today:

The trees in the mall are in need of replacing; some are diseased and have been removed. If we want the mall to “fill out” and provide the right coverage for campus, they should be replaced this year. I said “No,” that money is not available and what is should be used for other priorities.

We have thousands of dollars of requests for renovations and minor capital improvements.

Right now, we are prioritizing our dollars first items connected to future savings and to academic programs. After that and only if funds remain will we do the other improvements.

The college is constantly asked to sponsor things in the community we are saying “No.” We cannot be all things to all people and we are focusing our resources at “home.”

Last year, we paid more than $422,000 in credit-card fees for tuition payments.

We are entering into an agreement with a third party, Higher One, to process credit-card payments for us and we will no longer pay those fees.

Yes, a convenience fee will be charged to students/families who continue to use a credit card to pay for tuition. We are talking tuition and fee payments only, not The College Store or other independent credit-card transactions.

We have done our homework; we are virtually the only college in our area not charging fees. Students will continue to have the ability to use ACH payments for free, and we do expect many current credit-card users to switch to a free method. But we cannot continue to pay those fees impacting tuition for everyone for the convenience of some students/families.

I have a visual example today. This binder represents “¦ Well, I will let you decide what it represents.

Let me first say I am an academic in my heart and soul. I believe in academic freedom and faculty choice.

I also believe in responsible decision-making and appropriate dialogue between colleagues in this case, faculty and librarians. With that as a foundation, this binder represents excess and something that has to change: 518 videocassettes never borrowed from the library, 2,590 that have not circulated since 2009. At $100 each, that is a very low average … and, at that price, it took about 14 students’ tuition payments to purchase these materials.

I ask you to make the change. Together, we can meet the financial opportunities before us.

Mary Douglas, a British anthropologist known for her writings on human culture, once said, “If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization.”

That is just what we are doing.

Now, to the initial reason for our meeting.

I want to ask you some questions, even though given our group size and setting they will be rhetorical.

What was the percentage increase for our housing and meal-plan rates for next year? Answer: A combined 2.35 percent, the lowest in the history of Residence Life and Dining Services.

If you want to tour Penn College, can you do it on a Saturday? Answer: Yes, Saturday tours were introduced this January.

Have you seen the latest YouTube video of Kristi Ritchey, a 2002 culinary arts technology alum? It is inspirational, and a wonderful testimony to our program, our students and our faculty in the School of Hospitality.

How many national tournament champion wrestlers does Penn College have in its first year of wrestling? Answer: Two, and the team placed third.

What is the Wildcat Comic Con and why is Penn College hosting this event?

Where did I get this information? Why is it important?

Every day, people ask about Penn College.

What are the new programs? By the way, do you know what new program begins here next fall? That answer you need to find for yourself.

I start every day reading the Sun Gazette yes, it is a ritual.

And I begin my day at my desk with a quick read of PCToday. I encourage each of you to do the same. You have an obligation to keep informed on what is going on across campus.

Each of us is an ambassador for Penn College. Each of us should be recruiting always. Friends, young people we know, adults wanting a new career, acquaintances in social and community organizations.

Do you know all we offer in the noncredit world, as well?

Be informed, find out what is happening; quite honestly, your future could depend upon it.

It is not just Admissions, Academic Affairs and CICR who market and advocate for the college. Each of us can and should make a difference.

In department meetings, division meetings and school meetings, we are going to start asking questions and sharing information. We all need to become better ambassadors and representatives of the college.

March 24 is Open House. Have you volunteered? I hope you will consider the opportunity to share your time on this day.

We have fun and we each make a difference. It is important we assist on that day to open our doors to the potential students and their families who will visit. Please volunteer and attend the information sessions get informed, stay informed.

Check out the Fast Facts on the Web and portal and become an educated advocate and ambassador for the college.

As you leave today, there are extra copies of our Annual Report take one, and give it to someone who would benefit from learning about the college.

I hope you are as proud as I am of our accomplishments and share our message.

We have much to boast about: great students, 95-percent positive placement, great faculty, staff that make a difference daily, and an environment that fosters learning, independence and degrees that work.

All the elements are here; we need to get our message out and be sure we are delivering on what we say and do.

I remain confident about the future and ask you to do the same.

We need to be more efficient, leaner and confident that we are what is necessary for the future. As we finish this academic year, there are important activities that have to be concluded.

The budget and staff rightsizing; a number of us have been working on an enrollment-management plan watch for a President’s Forum in March to discuss the plan and gather input across campus; our Middle States visit in April; final stages of matriculation for our Fall 2012 class of students; the opening of the natural gas training site at the Earth Science Campus, and countless other initiatives that will be concluded before we meet again in May.

William James, a pioneering American psychologist, philosopher and physician, said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

Thank you and have a great day.

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